Why Joss Whedon, Who Worked On The Speed Script, Hates One Of The Most Famous Lines

Speed Keanu Reeves Movie Poster

The 1990s was an excellent time for high-concept action movie filmmaking, and Jan de Bont's Speed is often hailed as one of the quintessential 1990s thrillers. A simple story about a race against time to save a bus from a bomber, the movie has become well-known and beloved for its innovative ability to sustain tension, as well as the late Dennis Hopper's utterly insane performance as Howard Payne. Despite that iconography, it sounds like Joss Whedon--who contributed heavily, without credit, to the script--isn't fond of Keanu Reeves' famous "pop quiz, hot shot" catchphrase because it feels out of character. The Avengers director explained:

So, I'm not a fan of 'Pop quiz, hot shot!' It became a catchphrase, and everybody was led to it, and I get why, but in mind he was a lateral thinker. He would see things, and be calm about it. He would see things -- this came after we sat down and redefined this character -- not as a maverick, but someone whose whole goal is diffusing the situation. These people on the bomb squad are unfailingly polite, and they always say 'sir or ma'am,' you know? They're bureaucratic.

So according to Joss Whedon's remarks to Holly Rebot about Speed, his issue with "pop quiz" lies in the authenticity of the line itself. In his eyes, Jack Traven is supposed to be a calm diplomat with ice water flowing through his veins, but Keanu Reeves (ever the eternal badass) apparently pitched the line, and it ended up sticking. The line arguably works for someone as unhinged as Howard Payne, but for a hero like Jack Traven to repeat it back to Payne at the end of the movie doesn't work for Whedon. At that moment in which Payne has Annie (Sandra Bullock) hostage, Traven's instincts would be to diffuse (pun intended) the situation.

If you need a refresher on Keanu Reeves' delivery of the line (or you just want a glorious throwback to 1994) check out a clip of the quote below.

Of course, at the end of the day, "pop quiz, hot shot" eventually found its way into Speed -- and subsequently into the hearts of action movie fans all over the world. Joss Whedon may not love it, but there's certainly a segment of the fanbase who adore the fact that it's in the film. I would also personally argue that quite a bit of the film is out of character for many of the jobs depicted (S.W.A.T. officers likely don't go around shooting hostages on purpose), but that's neither here nor there. If nothing else, it seems highly likely that this means Joss Whedon will do his homework in the creation of his villain for the upcoming Batgirl movie, for the sake of authenticity.

Looking beyond the legacy of an action classic like Speed, make sure to check out CinemaBlend's 2018 movie premiere guide to see what Hollywood has coming down the pipeline. Who knows? Maybe the next year will even give us some awesome new quotes to stand alongside the great one-liners from Speed.

Conner Schwerdtfeger

Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.