Keanu Reeves’ ‘Speed’ Decision Cost Him Millions of Dollars

The filmography of Keanu Reeves is so vast, it might have slipped some people’s minds he never did appear in the sequel to Speed. Perhaps this is forgotten since Reeves has agreed to appear in numerous sequels since then.

All the Matrix films are obvious, as is the John Wick franchise. Also, Bill and Ted 3 is on the way.

Back when Speed came out, though, Reeves was still relatively early in his career. No doubt he realized making sequels was a risky maneuver when so many bad ones had already been made by then. Also, Speed seemed like catching rare lightning in a bottle. No wonder he refused to appear in the follow-up.

Keanu Reeves’ star level at the time of ‘Speed’

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Anyone who remembers seeing Speed when it first released in June 1994 will know Reeves was fully established as a real movie star. Starring in Speed was still a big deal because he had done a few action movies prior. Most of his movies were character acting parts in comedies, romantic comedies, or dramas.

A few of those films were quirky independent features like the classic My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Pairing him up with Sandra Bullock was a major coup, creating a strong dynamic in a story favoring a fast pace without any letup.

Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves | Jason Merritt/Getty Images

At the time, Speed was considered just right for a public wanting to ramp up action during a complacent time. No other action film had a continual adrenaline rush like that one had, if also letting Reeves emote more after sometimes being accused of being wooden.

When adding in superb supporting players (notably Dennis Hopper as Howard Payne), no wonder the film became a box office smash. Creating a sequel was inevitable, and all possibility existed of it becoming a franchise.

20th Century Fox wanted Keanu Reeves for ‘Speed 2’

Everyone thought it was a shoo-in Reeves would jump right into a sequel since the chemistry with Bullock on-screen was real. According to official sources, Reeves was offered $11 million for the sequel.

He turned it down, though, reportedly because he did not want to do two action movies back-to-back. And yet, perplexingly, he plowed into Johnny Mnemonic the following year, an action film that was done in Canada.

Plus, he acted in a romantic drama (A Walk in the Clouds), arguably his best movie for a while until doing The Matrix. The latter movie, of course, changed his entire movie trajectory. Without those movies, he might have experienced a career lull a little earlier.

What was it about Speed 2 really keeping him away?

The script of ‘Speed 2’ had mixed opinion

Perhaps Reeves gave first proof that not all actors want to cash out while working on a clunker. He read the Speed 2 script early, according to TV interviews, and decided to bail out due to thinking a cruise ship runs slower than a bus. Then again, there really was a split in critical response to the sequel when it released in 1997.

Despite bombing at the box office, critics like Roger Ebert praised it for being a rousing ocean liner adventure story. Except, he dinged Sandra Bullock’s acting, no doubt being a deal-breaker for many viewers when seeing the review.

In the plot, it was explained Bullock’s character (Annie Porter) broke up with Reeves’ character and latched onto her new boyfriend, Jason Patric. Rather than being a bus, an ocean liner filled with people would blow up if the ship kept moving.

Yes, a lot of these could have potentially been made, giving Reeves a gimmicky action franchise a little early. Instead, he went brainier with The Matrix. Now with him doing more sequels than ever, maybe even he looks back on this with irony his Jack Traven is perhaps John Wick reincarnated.