The man. The myth. The legend. Keanu Reeves has now been a fixture on movie screens for more than 30 years. And though technically, he’s Canadian, there are fewer things more American than watching this dark-haired hero punch, kick, slice, or shoot his way out of a sticky situation (or struggle his way through a line). It seems that following the massive successes of John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2, Keanu has become a figure of some semi-mythological status in our society.
While it’s an honorific that’s well-earned, there was a time when Keanu Reeves didn’t like the idea of being labeled one of the world’s best “action stars” — he wanted to be more. For this reason, he turned down a role in Speed 2, because he thought it would pigeonhole him as a one-dimensional actor. “You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again. I really felt like I was fighting for my life.” For years, Reeves was out of Hollywood — which some have attributed to this refusal. But in 2014, he came back in a big way. Now, Keanu has attained a position of pop-cultural prestige and boasts an impressive career that deserves retrospective. For your reading and viewing pleasure, we’ve constructed this list of the best Keanu Reeves movies of all time.
12. River’s Edge
The late ’80s film River’s Edge went largely overlooked, despite receiving a positive critical reception. The movie is an example of “killer kid” genre film, in which teens somehow become involved in a murder and face the moral quandary of what to do (an obvious example of this subgenre is the classic I Know What You Did Last Summer). Reeves plays Matt, the aloof, leather-jacketed stoner, a role that Keanu would reprise again and again throughout his career. Said casting director Carrie Frazier of a young Keanu Reeves auditioning: “He walked in the door and I went, “Oh my god, this is my guy!” It was just because of the way he held his body—his shoes were untied, and what he was wearing looked like a young person growing into being a man. I was over the moon about him.”
Length: 1h 39m
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
11. The Replacements
It’s the heart of the fictitious version of the NFL’s season, and the star players have all gone on strike. The Washington Sentinels organization is desperately in need of players. No players will scab, so they have to dig around outside of the normal pool of players. There, they find disgraced ex-quarterback Shane Falco, played by Keanu Reeves. Falco hasn’t played since the disaster of his senior year at Ohio State, in which he lost it all in a disastrous Sugar Bowl game. But now, he has a chance at redemption, in spite of the doubt he faces. Reeves scores in this movie — and not just with the head cheerleader (played by Brooke Langton).
Length: 1h 58m
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Keanu Reeves is John Constantine, a chain-smoking, jaded detective with a gift that’s also a curse. Hear me out — he can see the half-angels and half-demons on Earth (there are a lot). It turns out that God and Lucifer have a longstanding wager over the fate of humanity. The plot thickens with Constantine fighting half-demons and battling Lucifer. Based on Hellblazer, a comic published by DC Comics, the movie received lukewarm reviews.
Length: 2h 1m
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%
9. THE Devil’s Advocate
There’s nothing better than a movie that pairs two of the all-time greatest actors together in starring roles. Such is the case with Devil’s Advocate, which stars Al Pacino opposite Keanu Reeves. Yet again, Keanu is battling with grand notions of good and evil in this biblical caper. Reeves plays Kevin Lomax, a successful lawyer who gets offered a cushy new job from a guy named John Milton — played by Scarface himself — but it turns out that Milton might not be the man he claims to be. Roger Ebert wrote: “The movie never fully engaged me; my mind raced ahead of the plot, and the John Grisham stuff clashed with the Exorcist stuff.”
Length: 2h 26m
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
8. A Scanner Darkly
Based on the science fiction novel of the same name by legendary American writer Philip K. Dick (who also wrote Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, the basis for Blade Runner), published in 1977, A Scanner Darkly is a visually stunning and profoundly deep adaptation directed by Richard Linklater. The film has a unique look; it was shot digitally and then animated using interpolated rotoscope, a technique in which animators draw over each individual frame. Linklater used the same technique for his film Waking Life. The movie follows Bob Arctor, played by Reeves, as he plunges into deep addiction to the destructive and rampant drug of the day, substance D. Living with other substance-addicted degenerates, played by Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey, Jr., Arctor struggles with his sanity and tries to balance his identity as an undercover agent investigating the supply-chain of substance D with his own addiction. Wild stuff.
Length: 1h 40m
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
7. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
The big history report is almost due and San Diego boys Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are in serious danger of flunking. A couple of righteous Spicoli-types, they haven’t been taking great notes over the semester. Now, their grade hangs in the balance. Suddenly, there appears a solution in the form of a magic phone booth that appears before the young men. Out steps Rufus (George Carlin); he tells them he hails from the year 2688 when time travel has been realized. Rufus informs Bill and Ted that the supreme beings of his time sent him back to make sure the boys pass their history class — for the benefit of humanity. He offers the time machine for them to navigate through history, meeting figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joan of Arc, and more (it’s a veritable who’s who). The movie is utterly inane and ridiculous, but a classic gem from the ’80s that remains beloved today.
Length: 1h 31m
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
6. John Wick: Chapter Two
The success of the first John Wick was so incredible that a sequel was ordered for 2017, and a third installment is currently in the works. Once again directed by Chad Stahelski, the film follows the title character, played by Keanu Reeves, who is a highly-skilled not to mention well-dressed hitman, now on the run after a significant bounty has been placed on his head. With the same gratuitous action, martial arts and video game-esque gun battles (plus a truly epic knife fight), John Wick 2 stays true to the elements that made the first movie such a success. John Wick 3: Parabellum hits theaters in May 2019.
Length: 2h 2m
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
5. Point Break
One of the most legendary surf movies of all time, Point Break holds a special place in film fans’ hearts. On the far end of the spectrum in terms of believability, the film stars Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah (again, Keanu Reeves portrays a former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback), a rookie FBI agent who is tagged with the assignment of investigating the “Ex-Presidents,” a gang of bank robbers who has been terrorizing southern California. Johnny must go undercover as a hardcore surfer to infiltrate the gang, who intelligence suggests is a group of beach bums who love to shred the gnar. He befriends a group of surfers, led by a long-haired gent by the name of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and soon learns that they are, indeed, the “Ex Presidents.” But things aren’t as simple as they seem — they never are.
Length: 2h 3m
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
4. My Own Private Idaho
Directed by Gus Van Sant, My Own Private Idaho is a 1991 indie film starring Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix as Mike and Scott, two young hustlers who turn tricks on the street (with members of both sexes). Their relationship is complicated and only becomes more so when they set out to Idaho, and then Rome, to find Mike’s mother. My Own Private Idaho is still considered a monumental addition to the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s. Keanu Reeves said of the gay scenes involved in shooting the film: “I’m not against gays or anything, but I won’t have sex with guys. I would never do that on film. We did a little of it in Idaho and, believe me, it was hard work. Never again.”
Length: 1h 45m
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
A quintessential ’90s action-thriller, Speed is Keanu Reeves’ best-rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes (which has become the millennial’s favorite metric). The film follows SWAT officer Jack Traven as he tries to save a bus full of people from being blown up by a bomb attached to detonate when the bus drops below 50 mph. Sandra Bullock pilots the bus through the traffic-filled streets of Los Angeles trying to maintain the pace. You might need to suspend your disbelief for this one — especially as Keanu and Sandra attempt to jump a huge gap on the 105 freeway — but this is a pretty good movie to watch if you’ve got a Saturday night to kill.
Length: 1h 56m
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
2. John Wick
Nearly 15 years had passed since The Matrix, and Keanu Reeves seemed to have faded into obscurity. He hadn’t taken a major action film role for quite some time. It seemed that his days of dodging punches and bullets were through. That is of course until John Wick came out and blindsided the film world. The shoot-em-up flick came out in 2014, wowing fans with its raw style, intricate world, self-aware over the top action, and of course, it’s relatable plot-line (don’t mess with a man’s dog or his car). John Wick announced Keanu’s return to the big stage, cementing him as an iconic action star, and spawning sequels galore.
Length: 1h 41m
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
1. The Matrix
What can be said about The Matrix that hasn’t already been noted? The answer is “very little.” The 1999 science fiction action film written and directed by the Wachowski brothers remains one of the most influential movies of the last 20 years and has been pontificated and expounded upon by film critics and philosophy majors ad infinitum. Still, it is impressive that a film from the action/sci-fi genre has been canonized as a serious and thought-provoking work. Keanu stars as Neo, the black trench coat, tiny sunglasses-wearing potential “chosen one” who can defeat The Matrix, the simulation put forth by an artificially intelligent entity that’s enslaved humankind. It invokes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, and other deep philosophical concepts to unravel the nature of reality. The film also made waves with its slo-mo “bullet time” special effects. Not only has The Matrix been time-honored but the film was appreciated when it first came out, making a killing at the box office and garnering four academy awards. One of the first films to merge kung-fu/gun-fight action with philosophy, Keanu Reeves’ role as Neo in The Matrix remains the most important in his filmography.
Length: 2h 30m
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
The 30 Best Movies From The '90s
Keanu dominated the box office in the 1990s, but can you remember all of the classics from that decade? Check out our highly-curated list of the 30 best ’90s movies, and see for yourself.
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