Any movie that brought together the legends that are Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves was always destined to become something of a cult classic, and that’s definitely the case with the brilliant Point Break.
Released in 1991, Point Break sees Reeves play the excellently named cop Johnny Utah, who goes undercover to investigate a group of bank robbers and develops a close relationship with Bodhi, the group’s leader played by Swayze.
20. It wasn’t the first collaboration between Reeves and Swayze
Point Break is remembered for giving Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves shared top billing. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the first time the actors collaborated, but they had co-starred once before. Both men appeared in the 1986 movie Youngblood, in which Swayze takes third billing and a then-unknown Reeves has a small supporting role, in what was his first feature film.
Headlined by Rob Lowe, Youngblood is a Brat Pack teen drama about ice hockey written and directed by Peter Markle. Though Reeves was a total newbie at the time, Swayze recalled later thinking “this guy is going to go somewhere.”
19. It was almost made five years earlier with Ridley Scott as director
Point Break made it to screens in 1991, but the original screenplay by W. Peter Iliff was first written some time earlier – and nearly went into production much sooner. The first director attached to Iliff’s script was Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), who came close to getting the film off the ground in 1986. At the time, the actors in contention for the central role of young FBI agent Johnny Utah included Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer, Matthew Broderick and Charlie Sheen.
Of course, this was not to be; Scott would instead direct 1987 thriller Someone to Watch Over Me, and Point Break went back to development hell. Things finally got moving around 1990, when James Cameron boarded the project as executive producer, and suggested it as a project for his then-wife Kathryn Bigelow (whose directorial credits then included Near Dark and Blue Steel).
18. James Cameron helped develop the script
Once Bigelow and Cameron were both on board the Point Break project, they set about working on W. Peter Iliff’s screenplay. While Iliff remains the sole credited screenwriter on the movie, Cameron says that he and Bigelow rewrote a lot of the script themselves without credit. Iliff had been working as a waiter to make ends meet when Point Break producer Rick King hired him to write the first draft of the action movie’s script (the original idea having come from King himself).
Prior to Point Break reaching cinemas, Iliff had one produced script to his name, which also had an extreme sports theme: 1990 Corey Haim movie Prayer of the Rollerboys. Iliff’s subsequent screenwriting credits include Patriot Games, Varsity Blues, Under Suspicion and 2012’s Rites of Passage, which he also directed.
17. The film was almost named after Keanu Reeves’ character
Point Break was the very first action movie Keanu Reeves ever made, and director Kathryn Bigelow had to fight to cast him as Agent Johnny Utah At the time, Reeves was still most closely associated with his role in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, so there were serious doubts he could play a straight tough guy role (hard to believe today, after the John Wick movies). Resisting pressure to cast a bigger name (reportedly Johnny Depp was still a strong contender), Bigelow insisted Reeves was the only actor she wanted.
Patrick Swayze agreed: the older, more famous actor had originally auditioned to play Johnny Utah himself, but was more drawn to surfing anti-hero Bodhi. Once Reeves was cast, early footage convinced the studio he was the right choice, to such an extent that they came close to renaming the film after his character, Johnny Utah.
16. Riders on the Storm was another contender for the title
Johnny Utah was ultimately rejected as a title for the movie, as it didn’t give any indication of the surfing theme. Because of this, the filmmakers came close to using another title which would seem to have more of a surfer feel: Riders on the Storm. This title was borrowed from a song by iconic rock band The Doors, featured on their 1970 album LA Woman.
However, as this didn’t feel right either, the producers ultimately agreed to the title Point Break (despite concerns that this surfing-related term would be lost on the average viewer). By interesting coincidence, Kathryn Bigelow’s next film – 1995’s Strange Days – also takes its title from a song by The Doors.
15. Patrick Swayze identified with Bodhi’s philosophy
Part of why Patrick Swayze felt drawn to Point Break’s anti-hero Bodhi was that he felt the character’s spiritual and philosophical leanings reflected his own. As is mentioned in the movie, Bodhi is an abbreviation of Bodhisattva: a Buddhist term, which refers to an enlightened being who helps others to gain enlightenment (as could, in a way, be said of Bodhi’s relationship with Johnny).
Buddhism is one of a number of spiritual paths Swayze was open about his interest in during his lifetime. A number of the actor’s roles reflected his real-life spiritual interests, another example being the philosophical bouncer Dalton in 1989’s Road House. Another was 1992’s City of Joy, in which Swayze plays a doctor who goes to India in search of enlightenment.
14. Before Lori Petty was cast as Tyler, only blondes were considered for the role
Much as the casting of the less conventionally macho Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah proved contentious, there was a similar conflict of ideas regarding Johnny’s love interest, Tyler. In the script (even after Bigelow and Cameron’s re-writes), Tyler was a more stereotypical blonde surfer girl. As such, the filmmakers were initially only looking at actresses who fit that description – which the more tomboyish, dark-haired Lori Petty did not.
After auditioning dozens of actresses, Bigelow chose Petty for Tyler, and reworked the character accordingly. Following Point Break, Petty would take starring roles in A League of Their Own, Free Willy and the title part of Tank Girl.
13. None of the cast knew how to surf before making the film
Given that the bulk of the central characters in Point Break are surfers, the cast naturally needed to know how to do this themselves. To this end Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze and Lori Petty all trained with former world-class professional surfer Dennis Jarvis in Hawaii before they began shooting the movie. Jarvis has been quoted as saying that “Patrick said he’d been on a board a couple of times, Keanu definitely had not surfed before, and Lori had never been in the ocean in her life.”
For some of the smaller parts, professional surfers-turned-actors were cast, the most notable of these being Bojesse Christopher and John Philbin, who play two members of Bodhi’s crew The Ex-Presidents (the fourth being actor James LeGros). In the years since, Philbin has served as an instructor on another Hollywood surfing movie, 2002’s Blue Crush, which stars Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez.
12. Patrick Swayze cracked four of his ribs shooting the surfing sequences
Even with weeks of professional instruction, filming the surfing sequences still proved challenging for Point Break’s actors. Patrick Swayze made things particularly challenging for himself, as he insisted on doing all his own stunts as Bodhi. Apparently the actor was adamant about this as he had never used doubles for any fight scenes or car chases in his previous films.
This took its toll on Swayze, however: the actor cracked four ribs shooting Point Break’s surfing scenes, and as a result had to be doubled on certain shots. One of Swayze’s doubles was professional big wave surfer Darrick Doerner, on whom the actor came to model some aspects of his performance as Bodhi.
11. Swayze performed 55 skydives for the movie
Of course, as anyone who’s seen Point Break knows, the Ex-Presidents aren’t just about surfing and robbing banks. The adrenaline-charged ensemble is also very keen on skydiving – and to this end the movie features two eye-popping sequences showcasing that. Given that he was resistant to being doubled for the surfing scenes, you might not be surprised to learn that Patrick Swayze also insisted on doing all of the skydiving jumps himself.
The courageous actor ended up making a total of 55 jumps during the filming of Point Break. Point Break’s aerial jump instructor Jim Wallace reported that Swayze was a complete natural, and took to it immediately.
10. It is scientifically impossible to hold a conversation whilst skydiving
Through all their training and preparation, the cast and crew of Point Break were, when it came time to shooting, well-versed in the realities of surfing and skydiving. Even so, this does not mean that everything we see in Point Break is in strict adherence to the laws of science. Twice in the movie, Bodhi and Johnny Utah get in some banterous exchanges of dialogue whilst plummeting through the air side-by-side.
However, the TV show MythBusters in 2007 proved that there’s no way to hold a conversation whilst in free fall. In episode 94: Airplane Hour, the MythBusters also determined that it’s impossible to free fall for 90 seconds, as Johnny Utah and Bodhi do in the movie.
9. The foot chase sequence had to be filmed with a Bodhi double because Patrick Swayze was off promoting Ghost
One of the most celebrated scenes in Point Break takes place not on the water or in the air, but on the streets of Los Angeles. After catching the Ex-Presidents gang in the process of robbing a bank, Johnny Utah chases down their Ronald Reagan mask-wearing leader – who we have cause to suspect, but don’t yet know, is actually Bodhi. However, while Johnny may have been chasing Bodhi in the story, Reeves wasn’t actually chasing Swayze in the sequence.
The whole sequence was shot with a double in the Reagan mask, because Swayze was required to leave the set and do promotional work for his movie Ghost, recently released at the time. After seeing how gruelling the sequence would have been to shoot, Swayze (who had trouble with his knees) remarked he was glad to have missed it.
8. Gary Busey improvised his “Utah, get me two!” line
Point Break co-star Gary Busey had experience in surfing movies, having previously appeared in 1978’s Big Wednesday. However, as FBI Agent Angelo Pappas, the notoriously outlandish actor keeps his feet on the ground – and lets his mouth do all the work. It seems director Kathryn Bigelow and company were happy to let Busey run his mouth off a bit, as the actor’s most famous line in Point Break was ad-libbed.
While the script merely called for Pappas to ask Johnny to go buy him a meatball sandwich, Busey was so taken with this that he yelled after Reeves, “Utah – get me two!” This has become the most frequently quoted line of Busey’s career – even if ultimately Pappas didn’t to properly enjoy his sandwiches, as they had to go chasing the bank robbers almost as soon as he got them.
7. A double plays Utah in any football scenes because Reeves couldn’t throw to save his life
As well as having to convince as a newly qualified FBI agent, the role of Johnny Utah also required Keanu Reeves to appear good enough at American Football to have become a professional player. Unfortunately, being a convincing football player was something that the actor proved to have particular difficulty with. As well as taking instruction in fighting and shooting, Reeves also received instruction in American Football from Rick Neuheisel, a coach at UCLA.
However, despite their best efforts to get the moves down, Reeves was simply no good at throwing the ball. Ultimately, the filmmakers had to rely on doubles and careful editing to make it look like Johnny Utah could have gone pro.
6. The film was criticised by the FBI agent hired to instruct Reeves
The Point Break team also arranged for Reeves to meet with a real FBI agent, in order to give the actor a grounding in the job. However, the consultant in question – FBI Special Agent William J. Rehder – was less than impressed with how Point Break turned out. Rehder, a specialist in Bank Robbery investigation in Los Angeles, blasted Point Break as “one of the dumbest bank robbery movies ever made.”
The agent declared that none of the advice he gave Reeves about FBI tactics and procedure “came within a million miles of the finished film.” Years after Point Break, Rehder detailed his real-life experiences in a memoir entitled Where the Money Is.
5. The final scene was shot six months after the rest of the movie
Viewers of Point Break will recall that the climax of Point Break is set sometime after the main events of the film, with Johnny Utah having finally tracked down Bodhi at Bell’s Beach, Australia. However, you might not have known that it was also a belated reunion for the cast and crew, as the scene was shot around six months after the rest of principal photography had wrapped. This explains why Reeves’ hair is so much longer, as in the interim he had shot Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, which required him to have long hair.
Swayze, meanwhile, has noticeably shorter hair, as he had cut it for his role in the 1992 drama City of Joy. Though set in Australia, Point Break’s final scene was actually shot at Ecola State Park in Oregon.
4. There was a husband and wife battle at the box office between Point Break and Terminator 2
When Point Break hit cinemas in July 1991, it faced some very serious competition from another high-profile R-rated action movie that had opened the previous week. That film was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, written and directed by James Cameron – executive producer of Point Break, and husband to director Kathryn Bigelow.
This marked perhaps the only time in living memory that major films directed by a married couple were competing against one another at the box office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Point Break had to make do with coming straight in at number two at the box office – but as it eventually made $84 million from a budget of $24 million, the film was still a comfortable success. T2, meanwhile, made a then-phenomenal $520 million, making it the biggest hit of 1991. However, Bigelow would emerge victorious in 2010 when she and Cameron (by then long-since divorced) were both nominated for the Best Director Oscar. Bigelow became the first woman to take the award, for The Hurt Locker, beating out Cameron, who had been nominated for Avatar.
3. It inspired a cult theatrical production
2003 saw the premiere of Point Break Live!, a comedy stage show inspired by the 1991 action hit. Point Break Live! has been referred to as ‘the first ever reality play,’ as every performance has a completely unrehearsed element. Taking audience participation to a whole new level, each performance of Point Break Live! sees the role of Johnny Utah played by an unprepared audience member.
After a brief audition, the person playing Johnny Utah reads all of their lines from cue cards for the entire performance. Conceived by playwright Jaime Keeling, Point Break Live! first ran in Seattle, Washington, and has since enjoyed several runs in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Keanu Reeves is believed to attended at least once, and Lori Petty once played Johnny Utah!
2. It’s heavily referenced in Hot Fuzz
Point Break is one of the action movies most prominently referenced in Hot Fuzz, the 2007 action-comedy from the makers of Shaun of the Dead. Directed by Edgar Wright, who also co-wrote the script with lead actor Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz is a tongue-in-cheek take on the Hollywood cop thriller format, set in a quiet village in Gloucestershire, England. The film sees Nick Frost’s character Constable Danny Butterman sing the praises of Point Break – as well as re-creating one of the film’s most iconic moments.
When forced with the prospect of having to shoot a loved one, Danny fires his gun in the air and screams – much as Johnny Utah does when he can’t bring himself to shoot Bodhi. Kathryn Bigelow says she “loved [Hot Fuzz]… how could you not love it?” Bigelow also says that, on meeting Edgar Wright, the two of them attended a show of Point Break Live! together.
1. There was a remake in 2015 (and it was panned by critics)
Given how influential Point Break proved to be (the Fast & Furious movies clearly owe it a lot), it was perhaps inevitable that a remake would happen at some point. December 2015 saw the release of a new Point Break movie from director Ericson Core, with Edgar Ramirez as Bodhi and Luke Bracey as Johnny Utah. The plot and character names were mostly identical, but the response from audiences and critics was not, with the film meeting an almost entirely negative response
Critic Noel Murray wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “while Bigelow’s version featured charismatic lead performances and ample pop, Core’s cast mumbles slowly and sparingly at one another until it’s time to jump off something.” The 2015 Point Break managed to bring in $133 million at the box office – although that wasn’t close to breaking even, given the film cost $105 million to make, not even counting marketing costs.