Speed came out 20 years ago today and was the instant blow-’em-up action blockbuster of the summer, pulling in $350 million at the box office. Crafted from some of the minds behind Die Hard and up-and-comers Graham Yost and Joss Whedon, the movie had everything an action blockbuster should: a psychotic villain, an underdog hero, and unbelievable action stunts.
The movie launched Sandra Bullock to super-stardom and pinned Keanu Reeves as an action star — even if he was the complete opposite from John McClane. Reeves and Bullock might have been the names on the movie marquee, but the real star of the film is L.A. bus #2525. In celebration of the greatest runaway bus movie ever made, here are 12 facts you might not know about how the film came to be.
1. Sandra Bullock can always fall back on being a bus driver. Considering that Sandra Bullock’s recent Oscars prominence — and even more recently honored for a decade of hotness — I doubt she’ll have to start driving for Greyhound anytime soon. But Bullock did have to learn to drive a bus for her role, and passed the bus driving course with flying colors.
2. There are Speed super-fans. There’s at least one Speed super-fan, anyway. Ryan Beitz is attempting to collect every VHS copy in existence of the movie, because one can never have enough VHS tapes from 1994. Beitz so far has more than 500 copies of the movie and will acquire them through any means he can, as long as they’re under $4. Beitz admitted he just steals them after that. The ultimate goal — and yes, there is a half-baked goal here — is to decorate his van with the tapes and tour his collection around the country.
And just like an out of control bus, Beitz’s “World Speed Project” cannot be stopped:
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“If you see everything needs a use or an instrumental value as like part of a capitalistic worldview, then the World Speed Project is anti-that … Like the bus in Speed, we collectively cannot — and will not — stop.”
3. Joss Whedon wrote most of the dialogue. Keanu Reeves has Joss Whedon to thank for all that flirty disaster banter between him and Sandra Bullock. Whedon has worked as an often un-credited script doctor in Hollywood for years and Speed’s writer, Graham Yost, admitted that ““Whedon wrote 98.9 percent of the dialogue.” Whedon told In Focus that he viewed Jack as a cop who wasn’t really up for the job:
“Part of what I did on Speed was pare down what they had created, which was kind of artificial. The whole thing about ‘[Jack Traven is] a maverick hotshot,’ I was sort of like, ‘Well, no, what if he’s not? He thinks a little bit laterally for a cop. What if he’s just the polite guy trying not to get anybody killed?'”
4. Keanu Reeves only took the part after the rewrite. Keanu Reeves found Yost’s original script to be too much like Die Hard. It was only after Whedon rewrote most of the dialogue that Reeves signed-on for the part.
5. The biggest action scene of the movie wasn’t in the script. The movie’s famous bus jump wasn’t in Yost’s original script. Director Jan de Bont came up with the action concept while driving in Los Angeles and noticing an incomplete section of the then-under-construction I-105.
6. They actually did jump a bus 109 feet. There was actual bus jumping, just not onto California’s 105 freeway with passengers on board. A special ramp was built with the bus accelerating towards the ramp one mile back at 65 mph. The bus wheels reached a height of 20 feet from the ground, higher than the camera crew expected, which explains why the top of the bus goes out of frame in the movie’s shot.
7. Fox executives cried about Keanu Reeves’ haircut. Jan de Bont told Reeves that he needed to get a haircut that would reflect his character before shooting began . The executives at 20th Century Fox were so upset that Reeves had buzzed his hair that they threatened to postpone the start of production until his hair grew back.
8. The movie’s opening elevator scene came from Die Hard. Director Jan de Bont came up with the movie’s opening elevator scene after getting stuck in an elevator 40 stories up and having to climb through the roof while filming Die Hard.
9. Pacific Courier Freight will always get blown up. The plane that is blown up by the exploding bus has a “Pacific Courier Freight” logo on its side. This is a gag that production designer Jackson De Govia had executed twice before, blowing up a truck bearing the logo in Die Hard and Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
10. Speed originally had a very different cast. Bullock’s biggest competitor for the role of Annie was Ellen DeGeneres. Before Bullock was cast, DeGeneres was offered the role of Annie with the promise that it would be a comedic action role. DeGeneres passed on the part in hopes of scoring a gig on the newly developed sitcom Friends, and we all know how that turned out. And the role of Jack was offered to Jeff Bridges before being passed on down to Johnny Depp and then Keanu Reeves.
11. The train crash was filmed with model trains. Filmmakers didn’t actually crash a moving subway car into a construction site. Instead, visual effects supervisor Boyd Shermis and engineer Jack Sessums built a 150 lb model train that derailed into a miniature construction site.
12. Too much bus. The studio was concerned about people getting bored with the bus action and asked Yost to add non-bus action sequences. Yost initially had the film ending after everyone exited the bus, but later presented the modified script with Dennis Hopper in the subway to Fox, who then agreed to make the movie.