A Fox producer realized they might have a movie hit in their hands when he noticed that, during test screenings, audience members would walk backwards when they needed to go to the bathroom so they would miss as little as possible.
Jan de Bont insisted that Keanu Reeves get a sensible haircut as would befit a hard-working cop. 20th Century Fox were horrified when they saw the buzzcut that he adopted for the film, threatening to postpone the film to allow his hair to grow back.
The film literally ran out of money before it was completed. When the film was first previewed for an audience, the subway scenes were animated story boards. The audience loved them so much, the studio came up with the funds to shoot the scenes properly.
There was an instance where a schoolboy saved the lives of a schoolbus full of kids, when the driver had a heart attack, by climbing on to the driver's lap, jumping on the brake pedal and pulling the bus to the side of the road. When asked later why he did it, he told them that he had seen "that bus movie". At half time during an NFL game, there was a ceremony hailing the boy as a hero.
The scene in which Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes the chewing gum out of her mouth and pretends to put it on her seat in order to have an excuse to change seats and move away from the obnoxious Stephens was improvised by Bullock.
For the bus jump sequence, a ramp was built. The bus was started from about 1 mile back and accelerated towards the ramp. When it hit the ramp it had reached a speed of 61 mph. The bus traveled 109 feet and its front wheels reached an altitude of 20 feet from the ground, which was higher than anyone had anticipated. Because of this, the cameras were not placed correctly and the top front part of the bus goes out of the frame when the bus reaches the maximum point of the jump.
The 105 freeway in California had recently been completed, but not opened at the time of production. The filmmakers were given all the time they needed to complete the freeway scenes without the hassle of closing down an operating major freeway.
Director Jan de Bont came up with the idea for the opening elevator sequence while working as a cinematographer on Die Hard (1988). While riding in an elevator in the building used as the skyscraper in that film, the elevator got stuck on the 40th floor, and de Bont had to climb out the escape hatch and jump onto another elevator to get out.
The plane destroyed by the exploding bus has the logo "Pacific Courier Freight" on its side. This same name is on the truck used by the terrorists in Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) - an in joke by production designer Jackson De Govia.
The watch Jack was wearing, the Casio G-Shock DW-5600C, had been discontinued when filming commenced. Due to the film's success, the watch was in popular demand and the company started making them again.
The script was pitched to Paramount Studios, which placed the movie on turnaround and suggested to writer Graham Yost that his script, which called for the movie to end after everyone gets off the bus, had "too much bus" in it, implying audiences would not go for a movie in which a bus is driving around for two hours. Yost then added the subway scenes, and the modified script was presented to Fox Studios, which agreed to film the movie.
A special bus was used for the bus jump scene. This bus was modified so that it could reach a speed of 70 mph and it was equipped with powerful shock absorbers. The driver seat was moved back 15 feet so that if something went wrong the driver wasn't ejected from the bus. The seat itself was a suspension mechanism between the ceiling and the bus floor to avoid the driver from suffering spinal compression on impact.
There is a picture of an ocean wave on the side of the bus, more noticeably when the bus is circling the airport. That photograph was taken by Jan de Bont, for a campaign that was done for the American oceans, "Heal the Bay".
For the bus jump sequence, the city of Los Angeles gave permission to shoot on the I-105 freeway during the last month of its construction. This required the filming crew to be constantly on the move, depending on the location of the workers. It also created continuity problems because the appearance of the set kept changing as the construction crews would erect or tear down structures.
The film was originally written with the intention that Jeff Bridges would play Jack and Ellen DeGeneres would play Annie. DeGeneres was initially chosen because the role of Annie was going to be a comedic role opposite the serious role of Jack.
The scene where the bus smashes into an empty jumbo jet plane being towed across the runway was was actually filmed at the Mojave Airport. According to the DVD Commentary, Jan De Bont says it was "out in the desert, on an old runway".
20th Century Fox were not convinced to begin with that Keanu Reeves had enough star clout to front the film and insisted on a big name actress to star alongside him. Jan de Bont refused. Fox relented to his casting of Sandra Bullock with Reeves only two weeks before shooting began.
There are 3 different ads on the bus and they are as follows (with their slogans): The Great LA Zoo - "Good Vibrations"; Heal the Bay - "Leave your children something to remember you by"; and Santa Monica Bank - "Money Isn't Everything. (Yeah, Right.)"
The subway scenes were shot aboard the actual Los Angeles' Metro Red Line. They often used the same short stretch of track over & over, but most of the time, that subway tunnel you see is real. The only subway scenes that were faked in the studio were the scenes with Reeves and Hopper fighting on top of the train, and the last final seconds before the crash.
Before filming began on the freeway with the gap in it, all the lines and signage had to be put in and taken out on a regular basis before and during filming. Filming took places for around two and a half weeks.
The famous The Dukes of Hazzard (1979) sequence was the filmmakers' wry commentary on the uncompleted state of Interstate 105, which had become a running joke among LA motorists. It was finally (and quite coincidentally) completed in late 1993 shortly before the film's release, years behind schedule.
Although it was not part of the original screenplay, Keanu Reeves and Jan de Bont both agreed that miming gum chewing was an ingenious way to foreshadow Jack Traven's "gut feelings," thus exposing his thought processes to the audience. This revelation occurred after Keanu casually ad libbed this into one of the scene takes.
The police helicopter used by the Captain (or Lieutenant) in the movie, N599DB, spent several years thereafter in operation as C-FCPS, Calgary, Alberta, Canada's police helicopter "HAWC 1". It was retired and sold to a private citizen in late 2006.
At one point, while noticing Annie's sweater, Jack says that the (Arizona) wildcats have a hell of a football team. Even though Arizona had a good football team while the movie was being made, it is far better known as a basketball school.
At the end of the film, Dennis Hopper puts on a police uniform to pretend he's a cop. Joe Morton (Mac) previously appeared in Terminator 2, where the bad guy (Robert Patrick) also wears a police uniform throughout the film.
Keanu Reeves declined to return as Jack Traven for the sequel "Speed 2: Cruise Control". Jack Traven's absence is explained in the first scene and Annie talks to Alex Shaw about how her relationship with Jack did not work out.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Jack's sidekick, Harry, was originally to be played by Ed Harris and in this version was going to be revealed as the mad bomber. However, when Ed Harris opted out, and Jeff Daniels signed, the producers felt that the audience would not accept the sudden twist in character so Harry was kept as a good guy throughout and the mad bomber written as a separate character.
A "deleted scene" sees Jack shooting Howard Payne in the neck, just after he'd shot his partner in the leg at the beginning of the film. Later in the film, you can see the oval scar on Payne's neck caused by the deleted shooting.
According to script doctor Joss Whedon, the Alan Ruck character (Stephens) was originally written as an abrasive lawyer, who gets his comeuppance in an unexpected death scene. Whedon re-wrote him as the sympathetic, dull-witted tourist of the final version, but kept the death scene, intending to give it more emotional impact. His character changes were kept, but the death was written out.
The Los Angeles airport would not allow any explosions to take place to avoid frightening travelers. The explosion scene that takes place when the bus collides with the airplane was filmed in Mojave, California.
There was originally a scene called "Officer Baker's failed rescue" in which a bomb squad officer called Baker was going to be lowered onto the bus from a helicopter only to have to pull up when a bridge gets in the way, where he meets an unfortunate end. This scene storyboard can be found on the special edition DVD complete with optional commentary by Director Jan de Bont.
At least 12 different buses were used during the shooting of the movie: - 2 buses for exterior shots - 2 buses that were blown up - 2 buses for interior shots - 2 buses for action sequences and "hitting things" - 1 bus for the jump sequence - 1 bus modified so that it could ride on 2 wheels during the sharp right turn sequence - 1 bus slightly raised so that a man in a mechanic car could fit underneath. It was for the sequence in which Jack Traven tries to deactivate the bomb. - 1 bus with an extended platform in front so that a filming crew could shoot the driver from the front. The filming crew referred to this bus as the "pope-mobile".
Richard Schiff plays a train driver when Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) kidnaps Annie (Sandra Bullock) and hijacks a subway train in a scene that somewhat resembles The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Schiff would later go on to star in the 1998 TV remake of said film where he plays a fired MTA worker/hijacker.