Keanu Reeves has been part of quite a few great movie franchises. From Bill & Ted to The Matrix and to John Wick, Reeves has solidified his status as an A-list actor. One of his films has suddenly become popular again and it doesn’t fall into any of the above three franchises. Speed, Reeves’ 1994 hit, is now the third most-watched movie on HBO Max in the USA.
When Speed was first conceived by screenwriter Graham Yost, he initially wrote it to where the entire film was on the bus. Yost saw the film as Die Hard on a bus and while the script was intriguing to Paramount, they eventually passed. Thankfully director Jan De Bont came in and helped Yost punch up the script a bit. The pair took their next version to 20th Century Fox, who immediately green-lit the Keanu Reeves hit we know today.
In this much more palatable version, the story revolves around Jack Travern (Keanu Reeves) and Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels), two Los Angeles SWAT bomb disposal officers who are attempting to disarm a bomb set to an elevator filled with people. The extortionist is Howard Payne (a creepy Dennis Hopper) and he wants $3 million for his efforts. Payne’s plan doesn’t go as he wants when both Jack and Harry corner him. But Payne takes Harry hostage, forcing Jack to shoot Harry in the leg so Payne would release him. Payne does but sets off the bomb, making it look like he dies in the process.
Soon after, Keanu Reeves’ character is witness to a mass transit bus explosion. During the mayhem, a payphone starts to ring, causing Jack to answer. It is Payne and he informs Jack that a similar bus is rigged with a bomb and it will activate once it hits 50 miles per hour and detonate if it goes below 50. Payne now wants $3.7 million for all the trouble Jack has caused him.
Jack finds the bus and is able to board it but immediately realizes the bomb has been activated. As he gets on the bus, a low-life criminal also on board thinks Jack is there for him, so he pulls a gun, accidentally shooting the bus driver. Enter Annie Porter, played by Sandra Bullock. She takes the driver’s seat as Keanu Reeves explains the situation to her and the passengers.
As all this fun with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock is going on, Harry has been working trying to figure out who Payne actually is and how to track him down. Harry does and he, along with members of SWAT, go to Payne’s home. Unfortunately, Payne was ready for this possibility and has the home rigged to explode. It does, killing all the SWAT members and Harry.
Jack finds out about Harry’s death shortly after Jack has tried again, unsuccessfully, to disarm the bomb. In the process, Jack accidentally punctures the gas tank, making life even more stressful for Jack, Annie, and the bus passengers. But Jack also realizes that Payne has been one step ahead because he had been watching them through a hidden surveillance camera. After a bit of trickery, Jack is able to get all the passengers off the bus, except for him and Annie. ENDING ALERT: This is where we don’t ruin the ending.
Even before Speed was released, Keanu Reeves was a star. He wasn’t known as an action-adventure star, though he did have Point Break in the bank. But Reeves’s early work included River’s Edge, The Night Before, Dangerous Liaisons, of course, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Parenthood (where he pretty much played Ted again). Reeves was also seen in Providence, the second Bill & Ted – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, My Own Private Idaho, Bram Stocker’s Dracula (along with that horrendous accent), and Much Ado About Nothing before Speed came along.
Keanu Reeves was by far not the first choice of De Bont. Scott Speedman was initially attached to the film when it was being considered by Paramount but he dropped out when 20th Century Fox took the film. Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, and Wesley Snipes were all considered before De Bont settled on Reeves. The character Annie was first conceived as an African American paramedic as a way to explain her knowledge of Los Angeles and her ability to drive quickly and expertly through traffic. Halle Berry was offered the part, but she turned it down. They were then going to make Annie the comic-relief and, heaven forbid, Ellen DeGeneres was considered for the role. Thankfully, De Bont brought in Sandra Bullock.
De Bont was given a $30 million budget to shoot around Los Angeles and a few of their unfinished freeways. He also shot on CA interstates 105 and 110 to get the bus navigating traffic. When Speed was released, it was a number one hit not only in the box office but among critics as well. The movie brought in over $14 million its opening weekend on its way to a worldwide haul of over $350 million.
So, if you’re looking for some classic Keanu Reeves action that doesn’t involve a lot of John Wick-type gunfire or knife throwing, HBO Max has Speed for you. Check it out and whatever you do, pretend like a sequel doesn’t exist. You’ll thank us.