Speed 2: Cruise Control

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  • Directed By: Jan de Bont
  • Written By: Randall McCormick, Jeff Nathanson
  • Release Date: June 13, 1997
  • Domestic Distributor: FOX
  • Cast: Sandra Bullock, Jason Patric, Willem Dafoe

Box Office Info:
Budget: $145 million Financed by: FOX
Domestic Gross: $48,608,066 Overseas Gross: $115,900,000

speed 2: cruise control
Put that condescending smirk back on your face and let’s dive right into the legendary bomb Speed 2: Cruise Control —  a sequel to a movie about a bus that had to SPEED around the city, keeping its SPEED over fifty, and if its SPEED dropped, it would explode! I think it was called … ‘The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down.’

The $31M budgeted Speed (1994) not only turned into a surprise smash that pulled in $350.4M worldwide, but it launched Sandra Bullock into a bankable actor and made cinematographer turned director Jan de Bont (his directorial debut) an in-demand helmer.  Even though the narrative to Speed was contained and closed, FOX execs Peter Chernin and Bill Mechanic saw the potential to franchise the Speed property.  What potential they saw will remain a mystery.

Jan de Bont went from the mid-budget Speed, to the mega-budget Twister (1996) and after that box office smash, FOX was pressuring him to direct Speed 2 — with a bump in salary from $150,000 he received on the first pic to just over $6M for the sequel.  Speed 2 was being developed as massive in scope and would be aimed at a broader audience with a family friendly MPAA rating instead of the first installment’s restrictive rating.  de Bont signed onto this bloated trainwreck, brought it in massively over budget and somehow survived its humiliating failure.  It would be his follow up picture, The Haunting (1999) — which despite being a decent sized hit, was so awful that it harmed his standing as a reliable director.  He was hired for the hack job sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), which remains his final picture to this day.

Speed 2 first encountered a massive amount of free publicity before a frame of the movie was even shot, when it was announced in June 1996 that Keanu Reeves turned down reprising his role which came with an $11M payday.  It’s easy in hindsight to understand his decision, as Speed 2: Cruise Control has gone down as one of the worst movies ever made — but in 1996 he was widely ridiculed for turning down the ‘surefire blockbuster hit of 1997.’  Reeves had followed up Speed with the so bad it’s almost perfect Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and then landed a minor hit with A Walk in the Clouds (1995), but as he turned down Speed 2, he had two stinkers about to be released in ’96 Chain Reaction and Feeling Minnesota.  Both were failures and Keanu was routinely mocked by the press up until Speed 2 was released, for stepping away from a blueprint for success.

Reeves had broken his ankle in a motorcycle accident, which was mostly the reason his reps gave for abandoning the Speed sequel, but apparently once the decision was made, he went to perform in a stage production of Hamlet in Winnipeg(!).  FOX execs reportedly would no longer do business with Reeves after he stepped away from their potential cash cow, but he found a new home at Warner Bros.  He ultimately chose the minor success The Devil’s Advocate as the movie in place of Speed 2: Cruise Control and funny enough, he was finalizing his deal for The Matrix as Speed 2 was about to open in theaters.

With the departure of Keanu, Speed 2: Cruise Control became a Sandra Bullock vehicle.  She had received $500,000 for the first picture, but landed $11M for part 2 and she had the contractual right to approve Reeve’s replacement.  If she left this doomed fiasco, the production would have never been greenlit, so she used her leverage to get FOX to fund Hope Floats (1998).  FOX did agree to finance her pet project as long as she would topline Speed 2 and the movie the studio had no interest in, became a modest money maker and their mega-budget tentpole became awash in red ink.

Keanu was quickly replaced by Jason Patric, who had nabbed the coveted role.  Christian Slater and Matthew McConaughey were reportedly also considered, but missed out on the big payday and the eventual humiliation that came with starring in Speed 2.  Patric was paid $4M and the actor had previously gravitated toward more serious fare instead of big budget fluff and the major failure of this project nearly wrecked his career.  Patric was the one who felt the fallout of the movie’s failure more than any other player.  Bullock, de Bont and Bill Mechanic were largely unscathed. He has since said of the film, “That was just a miserable experience.  Doing Speed 2 was really about getting me to the foreign markets where my other movies just don’t play. I succumbed to the pressures of what everyone wanted me to do.”  He concluded with, “I’m glad that [Speed 2] didn’t do well. I don’t think bad movies should make money.”  Damn right.

FOX greenlit the project at just under $100M, but the studio continued to throw money at the production, as if it would solve the moronic script’s problems and the atrocious acting.  de Bont pitched an additional last act scene to FOX where the ocean liner smashes through a coastal village and he did not want to use CGI or minantures, but actually build a small village to destroy.  Execs thought this massive sequence of destruction “could make the movie” and they approved what became the single most expensive stunt in movie history at $25M.  At a preview screening, Bill Mechanic was shocked at the audience’s lack of reaction to the destruction sequence on screen saying, “The audience thought it was blah. Fun rides aren’t enough anymore.”  It was blah.  Just a very expensive blah.

Production was also beset by a hurricane, dangerous stunts, de Bont’s temper and the picture came in far over budget and over schedule.  At the time of release, the trades reported that the budget for Speed 2: Cruise Control was $145 million.  Rival studios pegged the expenses closer to $160M+. Regardless of the actual cost, Speed 2 was a major stress factor for Bill Mechanic at FOX, who had to keep the studio alive and well through three massive movies with budgets that were out of control and nearly unheard of before.  Mechanic’s future at the studio was largely looked at as contingent on the success of Volcano, Speed 2 and Titanic.  First out of the gate was Volcano and that turkey ended with a $40M write-down, then this junk lost far more — and when Speed 2 flopped, Titanic was going even more ridiculously over budget and if it didn’t break every box office record it would go down in flames and take Mechanic with him.

Mechanic did survive the biggest gamble of his career with Titanic and to a lesser extent Speed 2, but it would be Fight Club that would truly get him into hot water with Rupert Murdoch.  That wretched creature wanted Mechanic fired for greenlighting the nihilistic film and did so after the disastrous opening of Titan A.E., which ended the Mechanic era at FOX.

Speed 2: Cruise Control was pushed as big as an event movie could be pushed and FOX first dated it for the Independence Day holiday frame on July 2, but then a big scheduling conflict arose with Titanic.  To mitigate their risk on Titanic, FOX brought on Paramount to co-finance and handle domestic distribution and they dated it for July 4.  FOX had the contractual right to demand a two week window between the two pictures, but once it became clear that Titanic would not be completed in time for the July date, it was moved to December.  FOX eventually decided to shift Speed 2 to June 6 to keep it away from Men In BlackCon Air was then positioned on that date and Speed was moved one week to June 13.

FOX went all out on a blockbuster sized marketing spend and all signs were pointing toward Speed 2 becoming a hit, but then the reviews came in.  Speed 2: Cruise Control instantly became a punchline — a soulless and bloated trainwreck that was ridiculed as one of the lousiest sequels ever made.  This was point at the screen in disbelief bad, from the actors, to the action, it was a complete disaster.  All the other studios had kept their movies away from Speed 2, which was the only wide opener that weekend.  It came in way below estimates at $16,158,942 – winning the sluggish frame.  Word of mouth predictably sank this stinker and it fell 54% to $7,436,506 in its second session and the domestic run closed with a terrible $48,608,066.

There were signs of life during the international rollout, where the film pulled in $115.9M, but it would not be nearly enough to offset the disastrous stateside run.  The worldwide cume was $164.5M.  FOX would see returned about $90.4M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would have likely covered the global P&A expenses, but the theatrical receipts would barely dent the budget.  Speed 2 and Volcano were responsible for a $119 million fourth-quarter loss at FOX’s film division.  The picture likely ended as a write-down near $70 million.


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  1. Speed 2: Cruise Control sold around 10.59 million tickets at 1997’s average movie ticket price of $4.59. Adjusted for today’s average movie ticket price of $9.01, that would equal $95.41 million.

    • So? Budget would have gone up with inflation and they still lost 70mil back then. And that’s a lot of dumb people who bought the tickets.

      • I know that. I was just pointing out how much lower ticket prices were back in 1997. In 2019, the average movie ticket price was $9.16.

  2. And to think Siskel & Ebert gave this a good (but not great) review. The only blurb I remember seeing on the newspaper ads was theirs…

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