As any local mall rat from the ’80s can tell you, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a time capsule of Metrocenter at the height of its popularity. During the golden age of mall culture, the north Phoenix retail complex, the largest in the Valley at the time, was brimming with shops, people, and attractions like its famed ice rink.
Like many other malls, Metrocenter is a shadow of its former self these days. Anchor stores like The Broadway and Dillard’s closed there years ago. The mall is vacant now. It closed due to low store occupancy and failed rejuvenation projects to boost foot traffic.
Back in 1987, however, it served as a lively setting for one of the film’s most action-packed sequences. That scene involved most of the historical figures going on a chaos-filled romp through the mall set to Extreme’s speed-metal track “Play With Me.” Genghis Khan trashes a sporting goods store, Joan of Arc takes over a fitness class, Beethoven performs in a piano store, and Billy the Kid and Socrates lead cops on a merry chase.
Connie Hoy, the film’s key production assistant and former Valley resident says that all of the Metrocenter scenes had to be filmed after hours at the mall.
“We had to shoot there at night when everything was closed. And we were there for almost a week so it was like several nights of … keeping a vampire schedule,” she says.
Rick Rothen, a location manager on the film says that the crew had to coordinate with Metrocenter’s various shops to stay open during the shoot.
“You had to make arrangements with all the individual store owners to have an employee there and pay them to monitor their places. Sometimes they wouldn’t show up, so we’d have to adjust camera angles so we wouldn’t see stores that had their security gates down,” he says. “If you look closely, you might see some stores in the movie that had their gates down.”
That wasn’t the only issue the crew had to deal with. Hoy says she had to keep some of the extras from acting up. (She even joked on a call sheet from the shoot where she’s quoted as saying, “It’s not Metrocenter … it’s … METRO HELL.”)
“We had so many extras, and they can get sick of things after spending so many weird hours in one [place]. Things got a little weird at times, like extras not going to the bathroom in proper places. Like, ‘C’mon man, you’re in a locker room and there’s bathrooms everywhere. What is going on with that?’”
It wasn’t all drama, however. “We had a lot of fun times, too. Watching the filming of what was essentially one of the film’s best moments, Beethoven playing keyboards, Freud picking up girls with a corn dog … it was a lot of great scenes in a short amount of time.”
Metrocenter Mall officially closed on June 30, 2020. While the largest mall in Arizona when built, it is best known as a filming location for BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Despite the mass redevelopment and revitalization projects, it just wasn’t enough to increase store occupancy levels and boost foot traffic. The remains of the mall were auctioned off on December 3, 2020.