Speed is your classic boy-meets-girl romance with the added twist of a moving bus rigged to detonate. Not exactly your average first date, but the heady mix of adrenaline and the sizzling on-screen chemistry between stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock was enough to make the movie a box office smash in the summer of '94. Over two decades after its release, the film is considered to have stood the test of time and may be one of the best movies ever made.
Along with Reeves and Bullock, the movie further cemented Dennis Hopper's reputation as "America's favorite psychopath" with a chilling turn as the movie's villain, Howard Payne. This was not always the case, however. A lot changed throughout the movie's production, including the identity of the lead villain. There were major rewrites to make the film less of a Die Hard knockoff; in the process, actors were replaced or recast, major scenes were written at the last minute, and the most memorable stunt in the film almost ended in tragedy.
The making of Speed went as smoothly as a drive through Los Angeles in a bus that can't drop below 50 mph.
Joss Whedon Rewrote Most Of The Film's Dialogue
For years, Joss Whedon toiled away as a script doctor in Hollywood; that included a gig fine-tuning Speed's flat dialogue to add extra sizzle between Jack and Annie. In fact, screenwriter Graham Yost credits "98.9 percent" of the script's dialogue to Whedon.
According to Whedon, he rewrote many of the characters to make them more realistic. The character changes included the passenger played by Alan Ruck, who was first written as lawyer upset with Jack Traven's reckless police work; Annie Porter, who was intended to be a stand-up comedian; and Traven himself.
Traven was originally written as a maverick cop who plays by his own rules and makes witty jokes, but Whedon found the character to be unbelievable and rewrote him to the caring police officer seen in the film's final cut.
Though Reeves initially turned down the film because it was too similar to Die Hard, the rewrite persuaded him to join.
Ellen DeGeneres Nearly Played Annie Instead Of Sandra Bullock
Roles are usually batted from actor to actor during a film's casting process. Before Bullock was offered the part of Annie Porter, it was planned for Ellen DeGeneres to be the second lead. When the part was first written, it was much more comedic; according to Joss Whedon, Porter was originally described as a standup comedian.
DeGeneres turned down the role in favor of doing a sitcom called These Friends of Mine (later renamed to Ellen). Halle Berry was also given a chance to play Porter before Bullock, but Berry rejected it.
Before Reeves signed on, meanwhile, his role was offered to Stephen Baldwin. Baldwin declined, however, because he thought the film was too similar to the Bruce Willis franchise.
Harry Temple Was Originally Written As The Main Villain
Jeff Daniels's character, Harry Temple, plays a key supporting role in the film to the hero Jack Traven. For much of the film's production, however, Harry was going to be the evil mastermind instead of Howard Payne.
"I'm never very fond of off-screen bad guys that don't have a lot of contact with the hero," screenwriter Graham Yost explained. He continued:
I thought it would be interesting if there's a lot of contact between Harry and Jack and then you find out Harry's involved with this whole thing... I wasn't counting on the brilliance of casting Dennis Hopper... He just brought so much to it, you didn't need back story.
Jan De Bont Added The Elevator Opening Based On An Experience He Had Making 'Die Hard'
Speed's action-packed opening scene owes its origin to director Jan de Bont's time working as the director of photography on the set of the Bruce Willis franchise to which this action movie is often compared, but it has nothing to do with the film's contents. Instead, the scene was based on a real experience de Bont had getting stuck on an elevator 40 stories up and having to escape through the roof.