Is that a cool breeze over the mountains or are you just watching a Keanu Reeves movie? Born in Beirut and raised in Toronto, Reeves has become one of the most celebrated and paradoxical leading men of Hollywood. He speaks like a Buddhist monk, can do martial arts, and even writes poetry. On-screen we know him from early roles as the quintessential stoner, then the steeliest action badass, romantic comedy love interest, and on one occasion, the voice for a dog in the aptly titled movie Keanu.
Indeed, this righteous dude is a legend we wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. His filmography is worthy of a dissertation but until then here’s a list of his best movies.
An animated thriller that watches 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 dig too cumbersome. Of course, Reeves acts the shit out of the role and makes us sympathetic to this poor schlub. Far from his No. 1 film.
Keanu is a demon-hunter in this 2005 horror-fantasy Constantine. He wears a suit. Let’s just say it’s no John Wick. This is also one of our picks for the best movies on Hulu right now.
So it’s not his best action movie, but Chain Reaction is worth a spot on the list because it’s Keanu Reeves as a rocket scientist. And we’re not gonna miss that. 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 killed or framed. The cast is tremendous (Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz), but the film is less than memorable and far from the first credit you think of.
We’ll keep this short and, well … Keanu Reeves isn’t just an action hero or gun-slinging, bullet-stopping piece of meat. 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. I don’t even want to tell you the plot …
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 before, gosh darn it, he gets moving and makes it different. It’s all in a look, and that expression makes the sports comedy-drama Hardball especially great to watch. Based on a book (so you know it’s gonna be good) 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.
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 kinda guy. Keanu, we would follow you on the field any day.
It’s Hackers meets The Matrix, only awesomer. 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, his head will explode. Wired Magazine raved that the film was far beyond its time, plus, it’s got a fun Henry Rollins cameo.
Written and directed by Gus Van Sant — a legend in the independent circuit — 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 bands up with Keanu to travel from Portland to Idaho to Italy, and while some moviegoers feel the plot and filming devices are a bit meh, 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, from the actors to the scenes, the more it pulls you in. A truly strong and daring performance by Keanu Reeves.
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 California dolt teenagers 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 pinnacle Keanu.
A big part of me wanted to put John Wick at the No. 1 spot but after much guilt and ridicule, it slipped down to fourth. But let me say this, John Wick is the best action movie franchise of the 2010s, and arguably all the 2000s 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 us after watching this or we’ll break down.) Reeves plays the grizzled yet precise John Wick, an assassin known by other assassins as “the boogeyman.” He’s unbeatable, yet knows how to bleed. Reeves flexes his physical prowess in über-creative fight scenes and wears that black-on-black suit like it’s a crime. Now with a fourth installment of the franchise due to release in 2022, I’m ready and waiting for Wick to return.
Keanu buzzed his characteristic shaggy locks to star as the lead in the 1994 popcorn thriller Speed. Reeves plays LA bomb squad specialist Jack who must catch not only the Dennis Hopper terrorist baddie, but 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 doofy stoner, building on the success of Point Break. His stoic and calm-under-pressure acting keep the viewer hooked and excitedly on-edge. The only downfall to 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 singular installment that much better. And makes us love him as a person even more.
For the sake of time, we’re going to loop in all the Matrix movies and call the franchise Keanu’s No.2 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, as well as Will Smith. It would be Keanu who nursed the part of a computer programmer turned digital-alternate-reality messiah into the cult figure it 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. Makes us want to choose the red pill over the blue.
There was no debate, not a glimmer of hesitation, that Point Break would top the list of 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 is high-thrills and has all the trappings of a perfect action flick, but in his meditative Keanu way, Reeves turned Point Break into a reflective and 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 his peak.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Keanu is a baby in this film. Not a leading role but 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 feature Keanu.
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