When Speed premiered in 1994, the world became aware of Keanu Reeves and his superstar potential almost overnight. Alongside Sandra Bullock, the actor who would later become infamous for being the most down-to-earth celebrity, broke out in a role that very much aligned with his stronger traits while playing a leading man in films. Born to be an action hero, Jack Traven was the first definitive marker of the kind of star that Keanu Reeves was destined to become.
On the 20th anniversary of Speed, Reeves was reinvented as John Wick and went on to forever revolutionize the action industry.
Keanu Reeves Beats Sly Stallone For Speed’s Part
Despite the notoriety of industry-hardened namedrop action stars of the ’90s like Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Nic Cage, action thrillers were in need of a fresh new face in the lead after having made the genre saturated with too much of the others in them. Thus hailed a new era that witnessed the insurgence of Jason Statham, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, and of course, Keanu Reeves. His 1994 film, Speed, a simple action thriller at its core, still managed to thrill the audience with the engaging and instant chemistry of the pair, but it was the director, Jan de Bont, who first saw Reeves reeking of potential before bringing him onboard.
“I always felt Keanu would be perfect after seeing ‘Point Break’ [in which he played a surfing fed]… What is nice about him as an action hero is that he’s vulnerable on the screen. He’s not threatening to men because he’s not that bulky, and he looks great to women. To me he represented something too young, too cool — hippie. He’s represented too much of the grunge look for too long. I felt like he had to grow up. In this movie, he is really coming of age.”
Jan de Bont’s instincts paid off as the director’s film catapulted both its leads into untouchable fame in and around Hollywood. Bullock, now known as America’s Sweetheart, went on to become one of the most talented and versatile actresses of the era while Reeves’ became the face of action via projects like The Matrix and John Wick.
Keanu Reeves Put Sly Stallone on the Back Burner
To undermine the star power of someone who won an Oscar at their very first attempt at writing a screenplay has to be a very bold move. When Jan de Bono began the search for a fresh new face, the director was serious about finding the latest undiscovered talent in town and for him, it meant going in the exact opposite direction from actors like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis who were already in their 40s at the time. Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, wasn’t even 30. That made him de Bont’s priority.
“I’ve worked with Mel [Gibson], Bruce [Willis], et cetera, et cetera, but people are ready for a new, younger action hero, especially one young people can relate to.”
Once more, de Bont’s vision paid off as Speed not only went off to win over the entire demographic range of its audience but became a cult classic over time due to its addictive plot line from start to finish.
Speed is available for streaming on Hulu.
Source: Showbiz Cheat Sheet