- The date is June 10th, 1994. Bill Clinton is midway through his first term as president. All-4-One’s single “I Swear” is number one on the billboards. And on this Friday, 20th Century Fox releases a little movie about a boy, a girl, a bus, and a bomb: Speed.
Grossing more than ten times its $30 million budget, Speed became a box office juggernaut that cemented Keanu Reeves as an action star, and helped establish co-star Sandra Bullock as a household name. As far as flash-in-the-pan hits go, 20th Century Fox couldn’t have asked for anything better.
That an execrable sequel (Speed 2: Cruise Control) would drop three years later from the same director would suggest that Speed was merely a fluke. But in the two decades since its release, few action movies can rival Speed for the cleverness of its premise, the execution of its setpieces, and the relentlessness of its.
Thanks to the terrific cast and practical effects, Speed is still as fun to watch today as it was in 1994.
As it celebrates its own 21st birthday, here’s one moment for each year of Speed that illustrates why it’s one for the ages.
And remember: never drink and drive, but feel free to enjoy a recommended sip while watching Speed hurtle from one amazing moment to the next.
1) Credits CrawlThe credit crawl down an elevator shaft sets Speed in motion from minute one, with each flight down adding another impressive name to the action (while keeping secret Joss Whedon’s work on the dialogue).
It’s a tame overture compared to what the rest of the movie is going to be, but it also subtly sets up the dizzying heights that will be crucial to Speed’s first setpiece.
Toast with: A Long Island Ice Tea long enough to sip through the two and half minute opening shot.
2) Airborne IntroductionsThis, ladies and gentlemen, is how you introduce your hero as a thrill-seeking daredevil. Have partners Jack Taven and Harry Temple completely ruined the suspension on their police cruiser by practically flying their car to a hostage situation? Yes. But doing so tells you pretty much everything you need to know about these two guys going forward. And if Speed has one direction on its mind, it’s forward.
Toast with: A shooter of liquid cocaine worthy of bros as bro-y and jacked up as Jack and Harry.
3) Rush HourThe above image may not look like anything special, but it introduces one of the most important features of Speed: the orchestral track “Rush Hour.”
The core theme of the tune is a simple six-note composition that appears in most of the action scenes. Therefore, it plays during most of the movie, and is as much a part of what makes Speed great as its four-wheeled or two-legged stars. Every time it shows up, it’s like a commercial jingle that’s telling you “look at this/it’s awesome!”
Toast with: A Bramble, the namesake of which will be stuck to you like “Rush Hour.”
4) Pop Quiz, Hot Shot Part IThe most memorable line of dialogue from Speed perfectly encapsulates a movie that’s all about finding unexpected solutions to sudden, insane problems.
When Harry is held hostage by the mad bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), the first of such solutions is to simply remove the problem entirely. The cocked eyebrow and shrug from Jack after he takes Harry “out of the equation” by shooting him in the leg sums up Speed’s general philosophy: if something works, just go with it.
Toast with: A Salty Dog to match Harry’s unhappy reaction to getting shot.
5) Harry's ToastHarry’s warning to Jack after they’ve saved the day is a dense thicket of foreshadowing (“I am not going to be around to back you up!”), but Jeff Daniels sells the hell out of the speech. It’s one of the few times in Speed where Jack or the movie has enough time to actually consider the risks he’s taking. Even if he’s not listening, Daniels makes sure we are.
Toast with: A foreboding Dark and Stormy.
6) Opening FireworksIt’s nearly 30 minutes into Speed before a bus even shows up. Once one does, the film’s leave-no-charge-unexploded approach to special effects is established with six different shots of said bus going up in flames. When the real plot of this movie gets put in motion it starts with several bangs, not just one.
Toast with: A Bus Bomb drop shot, which is like a Car Bomb, just with a pint instead of a shot, and a pitcher instead of a pint.
7) "I got gum on my seat. Gum."While Jack is racing to catch up with the booby-trapped bus, we get acquainted with our heroine, Annie. Bullock’s disarming sense of humor makes Annie thoroughly likeable and funny, so we’ve got someone on the bus worth rooting for from the second it’s put in peril.
Engineering an escape from conversational quicksand using only the gum in her mouth just goes to show Annie is as clever as she is charming.
Toast with: A Cosmopolitan to offset the self-described yokel bugging Annie.
8) Time Travel in Under 88 MPHJack’s silver Ford may not look much like a white Bronco from up close, but when viewed from a helicopter shot, the resemblance is harder to deny. Good thing Speed released a week before June 17th, 1994, when viewers could watch O.J. Simpson lead an L.A. freeway chase from the comfort of their own homes. Even a mastermind like Payne couldn’t have planned for such a coincidence.
Toast with: A Snowball, because things are only about to get crazier from here.
9) Tuneman!Though technically credited as “Jaguar Owner,” Tuneman is a mystery wrapped in a riddle seated in a very nice car. Does he make tunes as a means of affording this luxury vehicle, or does he simply consider himself a lover of tunage? These are questions unanswered even after Tuneman returns in Speed 2.
While Jack is commandeering his vehicle, Tuneman gives a great running commentary filled with concern, amazement, and general exasperation. For a completely incidental character, he makes quite an impression.
Toast with: A martini as dry as Tuneman’s Jaguar gets wet.
10) Non-stop ServiceA fair bit of contrivance is needed to put Annie at the wheel of the 33 to Downtown, but her first few minutes in control establish two things: she’s a good driver, and this bus is a behemoth. As the imperiled public transport exits the freeway, we see how easily it can barrel through signs, other vehicles, and actual barrels, while barely losing any momentum. The War Rig from Mad Max: Fury Road could probably trace its lineage to the unstoppable 2525.
Toast with: A B-52 as big and powerful as the bus.
11) Baby's FakeoutSpeed’s “Odessa Steps” moment is a manipulation sandwich. When a baby carriage is put directly in the path of the bus, the tension hits a fever pitch. When Annie runs right into that carriage, you’re horrified at the prospect of what will become of its passenger. And when it’s revealed that there wasn’t actually a baby in the carriage, you remember the absurdity of the movie you’re watching, so of course the carriage owner was simply transporting recycling cans in the strangest way imaginable.
Toast with: A Black Russian.
12) 45° at 50 MPHThe destructive and propulsive capabilities of the bus have both been established by now. The last measure of its road-worthiness is maneuverability. With a sharp turn approaching, Jack shuffles the passengers to one side of the bus to provide a counterweight.
As proven by Mythbusters, the passenger shuffling has no real impact on the vehicle’s traction, but what is surprising is that the bus can make such a turn regardless. In a way, getting the bus on two wheels for a few seconds is the most preposterous thing about the whole situation.
Toast with: A Blue Blazer for a blue bus drifting and making smoke fly like it’s Mario Kart.
13) Moment of SilenceIn another rare opening for breaths to be caught, the old woman getting blown up as she tries to escape the bus reminds our heroes of just how dangerous their situation is. Despite having exactly zero sexual chemistry, Reeves and Bullock have a strong report that’s as effective during action beats as it is during a moment heavy with loss and survivor’s guilt. Things are looking pretty bad for our guys, and the hostages need a big win to rally around. Good thing there’s one right around the bend.
Toast with: Death in the Afternoon
14) Speed Jumps the GapThere is no defending this stunt on a physics level. It’s not just implausible that the bus jumps a 50-foot gap in the freeway, it’s downright magical: the bus actually lifts itself up as it crests the end of the road.
This stunt took three days, as many attempts, and a crushed camera to complete, but it’s absolutely worth it. Unlike Superman, you won’t leave Speed believing a bus can fly, but as a mid-movie climax, it’s a stunning display of a metallic body in motion.
Toast with: a Tom and Jerry to help you swallow the cartoon logic.
15) Looking Under the HoodAs if being inside an unstoppable bus was somehow not exciting enough, Jack decides to roll under it to take a closer look at the bomb, a decision that gets more foolish by the minute. It kind of makes sense at first, but all Jack winds up doing is spiking the fuel tank, thus making everything worse.
It’s another expertly choreographed setpiece, however ridiculous, and the passengers banding together to pull Jack up at the last second is a nice moment.
Toast with: A liquid Screwdriver, in honor of the solid one Jack uses to spill all the fuel tank liquids.
16) Harry's ToastMore stupidity that’s nonetheless sold by effects and actors.
Why Harry and the rest of the L.A.P.D. think Payne would be foolish enough to operate out of his own home is certainly questionable. But the look on Daniels’ face the moment he realizes he’s about to die packs a wallop, as does the massive explosion that follows. Reeves’ pained reaction to the news of his partner’s death also helps to convince you that the real love story here was between Jack and Harry.
Toast with: A Flaming Dr. Pepper worthy of the glorious Viking funeral Harry deserves.
17) Tape DelayPart of the reason Speed holds up so well is that its simplicity has helped to age-proof it. The relevant setting and tech haven’t changed all that much in two decades, so you could feasibly make the same movie today (please, don’t). The major exception is Jack’s solution to Payne’s surveillance, which relies on VHS tapes and a UHF signal.
A remake would no doubt involve smart phones and hacked livestreams, so the inclusion of videotape and local broadcasts waves is what keeps Speed a product of the ‘90s.
Toast with: An Old Fashioned.
18) Everybody OffSpeed does the big moments well when letting its stars shine larger than life, but the simple danger that comes with walking a four-foot plank at 50 miles an hour is a white-knuckle scenario all its own. The civilian transfer is one last high-speed showcase for the secondary cast, and by the time we’re saying goodbye to them, it’s clear that the passengers of 2525 have made for a more memorable group of hostages than most.
Toast with: A Sidecar crowded with an orange wedge for each passenger.
19) Terminal DestinationRarely can a bomb this important to a movie’s plot simply be disarmed and disposed of. We don’t want our heroes to die, but a bomb that doesn’t blowup is like a song that goes unsung. Speed, as it almost always does, decides to up the ante at the last minute, letting the recently vacated bus drop below 50 miles, and blow-up the instant before it collides with an empty airplane.
It’s all the carnage with none of the human collateral, though the guy towing the plane is almost certainly going to be out of a job soon.
Toast with: The biggest Sake Bomb a Pacific Courier Freight Plane could transport.
20) Pop Quiz, Hot Shot Part IISpeed’s biggest flaw is that the movie has already blown its wad (as Jack and Harry would say) by the time it reaches the real finale. Bookending the bus chase with two very different action sequences comes with some nice symmetry, though. With Payne about to escape on a train, Jack finds himself in the same position he did earlier, but with Annie being held hostage this time.
As Jack tries to solve his bomber problem once and for all, Hopper throws out one of the best lines of the movie: “Poor people are crazy Jack –I’m eccentric!”
Toast with: A French Connection, the only drink to have when watching a train chase.
21) Beheading for the Finish LineMission: Impossible would outdo Speed’s subway finale two years later, but Ethan Hunt never got to deliver a kiss-off line to his nemesis half-so great as Jack’s. “I’m smarter than you!” Payne rages, choking Jack while they both straddle the top of the train. After a warning signal decapitates Payne, Jack’s self-satisfied retort is, “Yeah, but I’m taller.” It’s ridiculous, and silly, and wonderfully effective all the same, which is pretty much Speed in a nutshell.
Toast with: A freshly sabered bottle of champagne.