One of the best action movies of all time turns 20 years old today as Speed was released on June 10, 1994. It was a massive hit, becoming the 8th highest grossing movie of that year and making over $121 million during it’s theatrical run. It also cemented Keanu Reeves as an action star, as he would go on to star in The Matrix five years later and was in Chain Reaction and Johnny Mnemonic in between. It also launched the career of Sandra Bullock and was one of the high points of Dennis Hopper’s later career as a movie villain. There’s a ton of great behind the scenes bits and trivia around the movie, so let’s “Get Ready for Rush Hour!”
Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock were far from the first choices: The original plan was to have Jeff Bridges star as Jack and Ellen DeGeneres star as Annie. They both declined and the movie was offered to pretty much every major actor in 90’s Hollywood including Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, William Baldwin, Stephen Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Michael Keaton and Tom Cruise for Jack and Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep, Kim Bassinger, Halle Berry, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Maris Tomei, Daryl Hannah, Meg Ryan, Ally Sheedy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Winona Ryder for Annie. For the role of Harry, it was originally planned to have Ed Harris play the character and, in a twist, he would be revealed to be the mad bomber but they created the separate character of Howard Payne when Jeff Daniels signed on and it was determined he would be too liked by the audience to believe his villain twist. Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro were also considered as the villain before Dennis Hopper was cast.
The script went through a bunch of rewrites: The main screenplay was written by Graham Yost, current Justified showrunner, and it was much more serious and in the vein of Die Hard, which it’s obviously trying to capitalize on (It’s “Die Hard on a Bus” is the elevator pitch). Keanu Reeves felt it was too similar and that initially kept him from signing on. Fox brought in Joss Whedon and he, uncredited, rewrote most of the dialogue and created the banter between Jack and Annie. The iconic bus jump also wasn’t in the original script but the scene was added by director Jan De Bont, who thought of it after seeing an uncompleted section of freeway while driving around LA. The bus was also supposed to eventually start circling Dodger Stadium but it was changed to LAX when they could not get permission to shoot at the stadium.
There are a few deleted scenes: One of them had Jack shooting Howard Payne in the neck during the initial elevator rescue/hostage situation. You can see a scar on Howard’s neck for the rest of the movie. There was also supposed to be a scene where another SWAT officer, before Jack boards the bus, tried to board the bus via a rope from a helicopter and is then killed by a oncoming bridge but it was never shot.
Reeves and Bullock did almost everything themselves: Keanu Reeves did about 90% of his stunts while Sandra Bullock actually took, and passed on the first try, the bus driving exam and did a bunch of the driving herself.
Quentin Tarantino and Renny Harlin were both offered to chance to direct: Both declined and Jan De Bont was brought in, making his directing debut after being the cinematographer on a number of films including, coincidentally, Die Hard.
The section of freeway was brand new: The 105 freeway, the location for most of the movie, was just recently completed but not open to the public yet. The Speed crew was given permission to film on it before it opened. The construction crews were finalizing things while the movie was being filmed, so the locations had to constantly be shifted to stay out of their way.
Fox realized they had a hit a test screeings: Even with the special effects not completed, the Fox executives saw that people were walking backward out of the theater to miss as little as possible when they went to the bathroom.
The bus jump was physically impossible: During their 2009 season, the Mytbusters proved the bus jump, as set up in the movie, was impossible to do. For the actual stunt, a stuntman sat in the middle of a gutted bus and hit a ramp at around 60 MPH and traveled 109 ft and went 20 ft in the air, much higher than anyone anticipated. The bus actually leaves the top of the frame in the movie but since it was the second attempt, they left it in as is. The movie went through 12 buses in total.
The plane explosion at the end of the film cost $80,000: The production shot at LAX for three weeks.
The subway sequence was added in after Paramount passed on the film: Paramount executives felt that people would get bored of a movie that was 2 hours set on a bus. Graham Yost added the climactic subway sequence and then the film was pitched to Fox, who bought it. The subway sections were shot on the actual LA metro but the subway car that crashes out onto Hollywood Blvd was a bus dressed up like a subway car.
The body count is surprisingly low: Jack’s only kill in the movie is Howard Payne while Payne’s bombs kill 6 people. Only 1 of the bus passengers is killed.
Billy Idol performs the theme song: The song, also called “Speed” was included on the movie’s soundtrack. The iconic score was composed by Mark Mancina, both which you can listen to below.