Speed, a movie about a bus that couldn’t slow down, remains one of the 90s’ greatest action flicks. Even better, its 1994 release was perfectly timed for 80s kids who were then coming into their teens and looking for a truly explosive blockbuster. With set piece after set piece, Speed made a star of Sandra Bullock and showed that Keanu Reeves could do more than slacker comedy.
Here are some facts you might not have known about this action classic.
20. Sandra Bullock learned to drive a bus for the film
As well as being a breakthrough role for leading man Keanu Reeves, Speed was a career turning point for Sandra Bullock.
The hitherto little-known actress landed the role not long after appearing alongside Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man.
As Annie, the recently banned driver who finds herself behind the wheel of a bus, Bullock needed to be a convincing driver.
While the bulk of the actual driving was done by a professional stunt driver, Bullock still took lessons in bus driving.
As part of promotions for the movie, the actress even took a Los Angeles bus driving test for real – and passed!
It must have been nice to know she had something to fall back on if the acting thing didn’t work out!
19. The bus was actually driven by stuntmen on the roof
As you might expect for a movie that’s largely set on a bus, the crew on Speed made a lot of use of buses – a veritable armada of them, in fact.
Different buses were used for different scenes, being specially modified to suit the various stunt requirements.
Reportedly a total of ten different buses were used throughout production on the action extravaganza.
- Credit: 20th Century Fox
Most of these buses were equipped with two steering wheels – one in the usual place, and another on the roof.
Whilst Sandra Bullock sat in the driver’s seat, a stunt driver on the roof of the bus was really in control.
Speed’s buses are now an iconic part of movie history, as demonstrated when one of them was sold in 2018 for more than $100,000!
18. Keanu Reeves initially turned the film down thinking it was a Die Hard rip-off
Reeves came to Speed after appearing in a number of smaller, quirkier films geared toward a less mainstream audience.
These included Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing and the religious drama Little Buddha.
As such, the character of Jack Traven was a bit of a break from the norm for Reeves, even considering his earlier action hero role in Point Break.
When he was initially offered the starring role in Speed, Keanu Reeves turned it down as he thought it felt too generic and too much like Die Hard.
There was no shortage of action movies playing on the Die Hard format at the time, including Under Siege and Passenger 57.
It wasn’t until Joss Whedon was brought in to re-write the script that Reeves accepted, though Speed continues to be affectionately termed ‘Die Hard on a bus’ by movie fans.
17. 20th Century Fox blacklisted Keanu Reeves for 14 years after he turned down Speed 2
While Speed is remembered as one of the great 90s action movies, the same cannot be said of its 1997 sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control.
Set aboard a hijacked cruise ship, the mega-budget follow-up (again directed by Jan de Bont) teams Bullock with Jason Patric, and was a critical and commercial disaster.
It’s also notable for the absence of Keanu Reeves as Jack Traven. The actor, who was not contractually obliged to make a sequel, turned it down over dissatisfaction with the script.
While just about anyone who’s seen Speed 2 can understand Reeves’ decision, it didn’t go down well with executives at 20th Century Fox.
The studio blamed Reeves’ departure for Speed 2’s box office failure, and immediately banned him from appearing in any further Fox productions.
The studio wouldn’t make peace with Reeves until 2008, when they cast him in the lead of sci-fi remake The Day the Earth Stood Still.
16. Stephen Baldwin was the first choice to play Jack Traven
Considering what an enduring star Keanu Reeves has proved to be, it’s hard to envisage anyone else headlining Speed today.
However, back when the film was first in development, executives at 20th Century Fox weren’t convinced about Reeves’ star power.
Instead, the studio had their eye on someone they considered to be a more bankable leading man at the time: Stephen Baldwin.
A sibling of big-name actors Alec and William Baldwin (plus the comparatively lesser-known Daniel), Stephen Baldwin was a hot up-and-coming actor in the mid-90s.
However, Baldwin declined the role of Jack Traven because he got the same first impression as Reeves: that the material was too reminiscent of Die Hard.
Soon after Speed, Baldwin enjoyed his biggest success in 1995’s Oscar-winning hit The Usual Suspects, but his status in Hollywood fell significantly in the years following.
15. Reeves smashed the bus door by accident
Once Reeves accepted the role of Jack Traven, he really threw himself into it, getting into fighting fit shape.
The actor also insisted on doing as many of his own stunts as he could, reportedly doing about 90% of the action himself.
As is inevitably the case when tackling dangerous action, things occasionally went a little wrong, although thankfully without any serious injuries on this production.
Near the start of the film, Keanu Reeves’ Jack Traven is chasing the bus to try and get on and smashes the door window.
This was a complete accident, but it wound up being left in the film as it looked great on screen.
In the years since, Reeves has continued to do as many of his own stunts as possible in The Matrix and John Wick franchises.
14. Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels received real SWAT training prior to filming
Today, Keanu Reeves is famous for his extensive training in martial arts and firearms for his action-oriented roles.
While he had already undergone some training of this kind for 1991’s Point Break, Speed took things to a new level for the actor.
Reeves’ co-star Jeff Daniels, meanwhile, is far better known for tackling less physical roles (he appeared in Dumb and Dumber the same year as Speed).
Playing SWAT team officers was something neither Reeves nor Daniels had done on film before.
As is often the case for such major films, the actors underwent training with real SWAT team members in preparation.
This was to ensure that the actors moved correctly and operated their weapons and equipment in a convincing way.
13. Audiences walked backwards to the toilet in order to keep their eyes on the action
We often hear horror stories from Hollywood test screenings, which can leave the filmmakers scrambling to re-edit and reshoot as much as possible.
In the case of Speed, however, the test screening experience was very much the opposite.
Studio executives have been quoted saying they saw audience members who needed the bathroom walking backwards as they went, so as not to miss too much of the action.
On this basis, the top brass at 20th Century Fox knew that Speed was a bona fide crowd-pleaser.
In these earliest screenings, the final subway train crash had not been filmed in its entirety due to budget reasons, and storyboard stills were used.
The enthusiastic response of test audiences was enough to convince the studio to cough up the extra money to finish this climactic sequence.
12. Halle Berry and Ellen DeGeneres were considered for Annie before Sandra Bullock
Considering what a huge star Sandra Bullock is now, it’s easy to forget that she was almost unknown back in 1994.
This being the case, the actress was not the first choice to take the part of Annie in Speed.
The character had originally been written as African-American, and the first actress offered the part was Halle Berry.
In later rewrites, Annie was reworked into more of a comic relief character whose relationship with Jack is platonic, at which point Ellen DeGeneres was considered.
In the end, Annie kept both her comedic aspects and her romantic interaction with Jack, and Jan de Bont pushed for Sandra Bullock’s casting.
The top brass at 20th Century Fox were resistant to this at first because Bullock was not considered a bankable star, but they eventually conceded.
11. Harry was originally the villain
A great deal of Speed’s heart comes from the kinship between Keanu Reeves’ Jack and Jeff Daniels’ Harry.
However, in screenwriter Graham Yost’s original script, things took a dark turn regarding Daniels’ loveable character.
Harry was originally going to be the film’s real bad guy, with Dennis Hopper’s Howard Payne merely serving as an accomplice.
This was still the plan until only a month or so before cameras started rolling on the film.
In the end, though, Yost realised that this reveal strained credibility, and was “just a big switch for the sake of a switch.”
As such, Harry remained a sympathetic character, and wound up a martyr rather than a villain.
10. Originally the bus was going to travel at 20 miles per hour
As well as having Harry turn out to be a villain, the original script for Speed differed from the end product in some notable ways.
For one thing, it was at first entitled Minimum Speed – until Graham Yost realised “you don’t want the word ‘minimum’ in the title of anything.”
Rather more significantly, in Yost’s original vision, the bomb on the bus was to be armed as soon as the vehicle exceeded 20 miles per hour.
However, as this is generally a very safe speed for a motor vehicle to travel at, Yost was talked out of this.
According to the screenwriter, a friend of his suggested it would be far more exciting if the bus couldn’t drop below 50 miles per hour.
Yost agreed, and rewrote the script accordingly – but further revisions would be made before the film was underway.
9. Jan de Bont demanded Keanu Reeves get a haircut for the film
Keanu Reeves had risen to fame in the late 80s as Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan in sci-fi comedy classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and its sequel.
He followed this with roles in such hits as My Own Private Idaho, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Point Break.
All those films had one thing in common: Reeves’ lovely long locks, cut in the curtains style that was so popular in the early 90s.
When it came time for Speed, however, director Jan de Bont insisted that Reeves chop off his trademark long hair, positing that a cropped look better fit a hard-working and tough cop.
Reeves complied, but the buzzcut the actor went for was considered somewhat severe by the standards of the early 90s.
Indeed, studio executives at 20th Century Fox were so shocked by Reeves’ new look that they initially threatened to postpone filming until his hair grew back.
8. The film was initially going to be set entirely aboard the bus
The bulk of Speed’s running time takes place on the Los Angeles bus that is held at ransom by Dennis Hopper’s bomber.
In Graham Yost’s original screenplay, literally the entirety of the film was set on board the speeding bus.
However, executives at studio 20th Century Fox felt that a little more variety was needed to keep the audience interested.
With this in mind, Yost and director Jan de Bont put their heads together to come up with new sequences to top and tail the script.
De Bont suggested opening on an elevator under siege, having had an unnerving experience getting trapped in an elevator himself.
Then, Yost decided the best way to follow up the speeding bus was to set the climax on a speeding subway train.
7. Reeves was grief-stricken when friend River Phoenix died during the shoot
Speed proved to be a great career move for Keanu Reeves, but it was also a difficult experience for the actor for unexpected reasons.
Reeves was busy shooting the movie in October 1993, when his friend River Phoenix died of multiple drug intoxication.
Reeves and Phoenix had made two films together, I Love You to Death and My Own Private Idaho, and had grown close.
Phoenix’s shocking death hit Reeves hard: the actor admitted, “I have never felt a thing like that before in my life… I was very sad, and something beyond sad.”
To allow the actor time to grieve, the shooting schedule was re-arranged – but work on the film still continued regardless.
The director recalls that Reeves “became very quiet, and it took him quite a while to work it out by himself and calm down.”
6. Die Hard director John McTiernan turned the film down
Graham Yost says Speed was most influenced by 1985 thriller Runaway Train – but its debt to Die Hard is undeniable.
Speed was a production of 20th Century Fox, the same studio behind Die Hard and its sequels.
It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise, then, that Die Hard director John McTiernan was the first filmmaker offered the helm on Speed.
- Credit: Romain Dubois via Wikimedia Commons/20th Century Fox
However, McTiernan considered the project a little too close in tone and content to Die Hard, and turned it down.
Instead, McTiernan himself suggested the Speed producers consider Jan de Bont, director of photography on Die Hard and McTiernan’s later film The Hunt for Red October.
Executives at 20th Century Fox decided to give de Bont the job, even though he had never made a film as director before.
5. Quentin Tarantino turned down an offer to direct
Before first-time director Jan de Bont was entrusted with the reins to Speed, another hot up-and-coming filmmaker was considered.
The producers of Speed approached Quentin Tarantino, then red-hot from his acclaimed though controversial debut film Reservoir Dogs.
However, Tarantino declined the offer as he was busy in pre-production on his second movie, Pulp Fiction.
This turned out to be a good move on Tarantino’s part, as Pulp Fiction was a critical and commercial smash which earned him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
Tarantino has never directed a film that he did not also write himself, so it’s not surprising he passed on Speed.
However, in 2009 the filmmaker did list Speed among his 20 favourite films made since his career began in 1992.
4. The famous bus jump was added late in production
As the name suggests, Speed keeps the action moving at a fast and furious pace (no pun intended).
In the process, the movie sees the heavy-duty bus pull off some moves which some viewers and critics felt strained credibility.
The most eye-opening and incredible of them all is the moment when the bus leaps over a break in the interstate.
This spectacular stunt was not part of the original script, but director Jan de Bont decided to add the scene during production.
The director was inspired when, during his journey to work one morning, he noticed sections of the freeway were under construction.
Seeing an opportunity, de Bont proposed the idea to the cast and crew, and the jump was duly added.
3. Joss Whedon wrote much of the movie’s dialogue
Speed was the brainchild of screenwriter Graham Yost, who penned a script that was set entirely on a bus rigged to explode.
When director Jan de Bont boarded the project, he suggested changes which Yost did his best to incorporate.
However, everyone agreed that Yost’s dialogue wasn’t that great, so Joss Whedon was hired to do rewrites.
- Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and later director of Marvel’s Avengers) is said to be responsible for 98% of the dialogue.
However, despite all the work he did on the film’s screenplay, Whedon isn’t named in the credits.
This is not too unusual in Hollywood, where a great many writers make a living as ‘script doctors.’
2. Alan Ruck’s Doug was originally a sleazy lawyer who got killed off
Joss Whedon’s rewrites on Graham Yost’s screenplay for Speed resulted in some significant character developments.
For one, the supporting character of bus passenger Doug was rewritten in a big way.
Played by Alan Ruck (of Ferris Buller’s Day Off fame), Doug is a tourist who comes off a bit overbearing but is ultimately sympathetic.
However, as originally written Doug was a very sleazy and obnoxious lawyer who was killed off midway through the film.
Whedon recalls, “He was cast as that guy you hate. And he was very artificial. He was a lawyer. He was on the phone and he was a bad guy and he died.”
“And I think Alan Ruck is a great comedian and a great actor so I was like, ‘Why don’t we just make him a tourist? A guy, just a nice, totally out-of-his-depth guy?’”
1. The studio was so convinced Speed would be a hit, they moved its release date forward
Whenever we hear about a movie’s release date being changed, more often than not it’s because the film is being delayed.
Often a release date is pushed back to allow the filmmakers time to get it finished, or to avoid competing with another potentially major movie.
In the case of Speed, however, 20th Century Fox had such confidence in the movie that they brought its release forward by two months.
The studio abandoned the planned August 1994 release date and instead put it out in June, at the same time as City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.
Even though City Slickers II was playing in more screens, Speed still wound up the bigger hit, going straight to number one at the box office.
By the end of its run, Speed had earned over $350 million worldwide off the back of a budget in the range of $30 million, making it a very big hit indeed.