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The 13 best Keanu Reeves movies, ranked

Keanu Reeves has had a wild journey through Hollywood, but these are the films that define his career

Few actors have had the staying power of Keanu Reeves. After emerging as a fledgling star in the late 1980s, Reeves had a run of almost unparalleled success throughout the 90s and into the 2000s, starring in everything from dramas to action movies. Although it seemed for a time like his career was petering out, he’s since proven that he is one of our most enduring leading men, in part because of his even-keeled, zen approach to both his work and his life.

As a famous meme often reminds us, Keanu loves movies, and we love him. Below, we’ve ranked the 13 best Keanu Reeves movies over the course of his career.

13. A Scanner Darkly (2006)

13. A Scanner Darkly
73 %
r 100m
Genre Animation, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Richard Linklater

An animated thriller that feels like a depressed cartoon, A Scanner Darkly finds Keanu Reeves playing an addicted narcotics cop in the OC. Sorta funny, sorta morose, the film is exactly that — sorta good. Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1977 novel, there’s plenty of intelligent depth to excavate but the pace and aesthetic can make the whole thing feel cumbersome. Of course, Reeves acts the shit out of the role and makes us sympathetic to this poor schlub. Even so, this is far from his best film.

12. Constantine (2005)

12. Constantine
50 %
r 121m
Genre Fantasy, Action, Horror
Stars Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by Francis Lawrence

Keanu is a demon-hunter in this 2005 horror-fantasy Constantine. He wears a suit. Let’s just say it’s no John Wick, but it’s thrilling in its own right. The movie received mixed reviews from critics but has become an object of cult fascination more recently.

11. Chain Reaction (1996)

11. Chain Reaction
43 %
pg-13 107m
Genre Science Fiction, Action, Drama, Thriller
Stars Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz
Directed by Andrew Davis
So it’s not his best action movie, but Chain Reaction is worth a spot on the list because Keanu Reeves gets to play a rocket scientist, and that’s something you’ve got to see. Keanu plays researcher Eddie whose team discovers a way to turn water into fuel (“It’s a secret the rest of the world would kill for” the trailer says). Evil energy companies sabotage the lab and Keanu must escape from being both killed and framed for the explosion. The cast is tremendous (Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz), but the film is more decent than incredible. Still, it’s a reminder of just how big a star Keanu was in this period.

10. Sweet November (2001)

10. Sweet November
27 %
pg-13 119m
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Jason Isaacs
Directed by Pat O'Connor
We’ll keep this short and, well … Keanu Reeves isn’t just an action hero or gun-slinging, bullet-stopping piece of meat. He can be a romantic when he wants to be, and he’s starred in a number of romantic comedies, carrying the cumbersome burden of being the love interest who must sweep millions of women off their feet from the silver screen. He does that in Sweet November (and is ridiculously charming in Something’s Gotta Give). This flick is sad and beautiful and damn it, dudes, watch it for Keanu.

9. Hardball (2001)

9. Hardball
48 %
pg-13 106m
Genre Drama
Stars Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by Brian Robbins
Keanu Reeves does this thing with his face where you feel his anger, you feel his hurt, and you feel how much he wishes things were different. Eventually, gosh darn it, he gets moving and makes things different. It’s all in a look, and that expression makes the sports comedy-drama Hardball especially great to watch. Based on a book of the same name, Reeves plays a scrubby gambler who is forced to coach a Little League team of kids from the projects and comes to care for the young players. It’s a true-to-the-bone underdog story that some critics said “struck out.” But we enjoyed it. Was it a grand slam? No. A solid double? Yes.

8. The Replacements (2000)

8. The Replacements
30 %
pg-13 118m
Genre Comedy
Stars Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton
Directed by Howard Deutch
It’s not a big “thinking movie” but The Replacements is darn good Keanu fun and we’re always game for that. This 2000 sports comedy follows a pro football team that is forced to choose average-joe replacement players when their star athletes go on strike. The rag-tag band of drunks and has-beens come together as a team under the driving force of the quarterback (you guessed it), Keanu Reeves. It’s loosely based on a 1987 NFL strike by the Redskins, but Keanu makes it a feel-good flick that’s enjoyable even if you’re more of a lacrosse kind of guy. Keanu, we would follow you onto the field any day.

7. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

7. Johnny Mnemonic
36 %
r 97m
Genre Science Fiction, Thriller, Adventure, Action, Drama
Stars Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Takeshi Kitano
Directed by Robert Longo
It’s Hackers meets The Matrix, only even more awesome. The 1995 sci-fi movie Johnny Mnemonic was fate’s way of priming Keanu Reeves for the role of Neo while still letting him leave a mark on the cyberpunk genre. In this flick, he manages what only the greats do — to make unmemorable characters memorable and outlandish plots realistic. Reeves plays Mr. Mnemonic himself in a grim futuristic world. He’s got a computer chip in his head and if he doesn’t download the information it contains, his head will explode. Wired Magazine raved that the film was far beyond its time, and more than 25 years later, that feels like an accurate assessment.

6. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

6. My Own Private Idaho
77 %
r 104m
Genre Drama, Adventure
Stars River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written and directed by Gus Van Sant — a legend in independent movie making — Keanu shares the screen with River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and a landmark queer film. Phoenix is a gay hustler who joins up with Keanu to travel from Portland to Idaho to Italy, and while some moviegoers didn’t love the film’s plot mechanics, everyone agrees it’s a must-watch purely to see Reeves and Phoenix acting side by side. The bond between the two is undeniable and electric. They lived together in Portland during shooting and became close friends. The film is often referred to as a masterpiece and we agree. The more you dig into the rarity of this perfect storm, the more it pulls you in. It’s one of Keanu’s strongest and most daring performances.

5. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

5. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
50 %
pg 90m
Genre Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction
Stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin
Directed by Stephen Herek
Our favorite slacker duo would be incomplete without the stoner squints and air-shredding performance of a young Keanu Reeves in the role of Ted. This ’80s sci-fi comedy follows two teenage California dolts as they find a time machine and travel through the past to meet historic figures like Abraham Lincoln and Joan of Arc. The stoner role was Keanu’s bread and butter at the beginning of his acting career, and he blazed back into the Van Halen tee for a Bill & Ted 2. The original is listed on Rolling Stone’s best stoner movies list and is recognized for the legendary film quote: “Excellent!” Of all his early stoner roles, this one is the pinnacle of Keanu.

4. John Wick (2014)

4. John Wick
68 %
r 101m
Genre Action, Thriller
Stars Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Directed by Chad Stahelski

A big part of me wanted to put John Wick at the No. 1 spot, but it wound up here instead. But let me say this, John Wick is the best action movie franchise of the 2010s, and arguably the entire century thus far. How in the world does an actor so deeply connected to other iconic action movies like The Matrix and Speed create an entirely new and distinct character that makes us forget about the rest? That’s the magic of Keanu, baby, and it’s especially potent in this neo-noir thriller about the hitman underworld and one retired gun who is back for vengeance. (Don’t even say the word dog around me after watching this). Reeves plays the grizzled yet precise John Wick, an assassin known by other assassins as “the boogeyman.” He’s unbeatable, but not invincible. Reeves flexes his physical prowess in über-creative fight scenes and wears that black-on-black suit better than any other man could.

3. Speed (1994)

3. Speed
78 %
r 116m
Genre Action, Adventure, Crime
Stars Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper
Directed by Jan de Bont
Keanu buzzed his characteristic shaggy locks to star as the lead in the 1994 popcorn thriller Speed. Reeves plays an LA bomb squad specialist who must catch not only Dennis Hopper’s terrorist baddie, but also stop a high-speed bus (and train) to save leading lady Sandra Bullock. The film thrust Reeves into the stratosphere of action hero hunk and away from the doofy stoner roles he had been known for playing, building on the success of Point Break. His stoic and calm-under-pressure performance keeps the viewer hooked from minute one. The only downfall of Speed is that the studio demanded a second, and when Keanu turned it down they blacklisted Reeves into Fox “movie jail” — a stint that lasted over a decade. He was just too good in the movie. Knowing Reeves turned down a possibly shit sequel makes the first installment that much better, and it makes us love him as a person even more.

2. The Matrix (1999)

2. The Matrix
73 %
r 136m
Genre Action, Science Fiction
Stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Directed by Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
For the sake of time, we’re going to loop in all the Matrix movies and call the franchise Keanu’s second best-ever on-screen performance. I mean, come on, the dude is Neo. Fun fact, Reeves’ reoccurring co-star Sandra Bullock was considered for the role of Trinity, and Will Smith was considered for Neo. It would ultimately be Keanu who nursed the part of a computer programmer turned digital-alternate-reality messiah into the cult figure he is today. Reeves brings a deeply human vulnerability and almost child-like curiosity to the role of action-movie star, and it’s hard to imagine the success of The Matrix without him at the center. He makes us believe in the unbelievable. More importantly, he makes us want to choose the red pill over the blue.

1. Point Break (1991)

1. Point Break
58 %
r 122m
Genre Action, Thriller, Crime
Stars Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
There was no debate, not a glimmer of hesitation, that Point Break would top this list of the best Keanu Reeves movies. He plays the role of Johnny Utah, a young federal agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a band of bank-robbing surfers led by an impeccable Patrick Swayze. Reeves was only 21 while filming this 1991 hit and apparently rode to set every day on a motorcycle and acted his freakin’ heart out. The film has all the trappings of a perfect action flick, but in his meditative Keanu way, Reeves turned Point Break into a reflective and hard-hitting movie that radically changes you. Reeves said in an interview that of all his films, fans approach him the most to talk about Point Break. It combines all the magic of Bill and Ted with John Wick and is the perfect amalgamation of Reeves at the peak of his powers.

Extra credit:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 

Keanu is a baby in this film. It’s not a leading role, but it’s fun to see him get comfortable on-screen in this classic horror movie.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Even less of a main character, but a fun movie starring Uma Thurman that most people don’t realize features Keanu.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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