Often considered one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, Keanu Reeves has enjoyed a lengthy acting career, starring in some of the biggest action films, as well as comedies, dramas, and even romance movies. His latest turn as John Wick has once again made him one of the most bankable stars in the country.
Able to play a wide range of characters, he got his start in commercials in the 1980s. But it was his role as the dimwitted high schooler in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure that really got him noticed. Looking back on his decades-long career, here are 10 of his best roles, ranked.
Often considered his breakout role, it didn’t hurt that Reeves was surrounded by a star-studded ensemble cast that includes Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, Joaquin Phoenix, Mary Steenburgen, and Dianne Wiest. In this 1989 comedy-drama from Ron Howard, Reeves plays the boyfriend of Plimpton’s teenage character, Julie. He gets her pregnant and moves into her mother’s house, but eventually gets the family to warm up to him. The role had heart, and was one of the first to show Reeves’ abilities as an actor.
In this 2005 occult detective film based on the DC comic book Hellblazer, Reeves stars as the title character, a cynical man who has the ability to see and communicate with half-angels and half-demons. He is seeking salvation and avoiding damnation to Hell after trying to commit suicide when he was young. The movie wasn’t well-reviewed, though it did enjoy box office success. Reeves was singled out for his performance, with some of the best feedback coming from the Los Angeles Times critic Carina Chocano who lauded his versatility as an actor. “[He] has no peer when it comes to playing these sort of messianic roles – he infuses them with a Zen blankness and serenity that somehow gets him through even the unlikeliest scenes with a quiet, unassuming dignity.”
Reeves stars as the title character in this 1995 cyberpunk action thriller, a man with a cybernetic brain implant that can store information too sensitive to send over the internet. But these abilities have come at the expense of Johnny’s own childhood memories. He can regain them, however, after completing — you guessed it — one last mission before having the implant removed. The film was a disappointment at the box office, and Reeves received his first Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor in it. But we humbly disagree, and feel that while the movie itself might not have been top-notch, Reeves’ performance was.
In this iconic film, Reeves joined forces with burgeoning star Sandra Bullock. In case you somehow missed it, Reeves played an LAPD officer who’s trying to rescue passengers on a bus that has been rigged with a bomb. If the bus travels slower than 50 mph, the bomb will detonate. It’s a wild premise, but the film, set almost entirely on the bus, keeps you at the edge of your seat for the entire 116 minutes. And the chemistry between Reeves and Bullock is captivating. Dubbed a sleeper hit, the film won a pair of Academy Awards, and Reeves was lauded for his “outstanding performance” alongside Bullock and Dennis Hopper.
Taking a break from the action in 1997, Reeves donned a suit and tie for this role as a successful young lawyer who realizes that the owner of a major New York firm he joins (played by Al Pacino) is actually the Devil. Reeves might have been overshadowed by Pacino’s stellar performance in this supernatural horror film based on the Andrew Neiderman novel of the same name, but he still deserves kudos for playing the complex role, and for choosing it over reprising his character for the universally panned Speed 2, despite having been offered $11 million to return for that film.
In this 2000 sports comedy, Reeves played a former quarterback who had an embarrassing end to his career, but gets a second chance when there’s a player’s strike. This is yet another Reeves movie that was heavily criticized for being formulaic and predictable, but his performance stood out and a cast that includes the indelible Gene Hackman makes this one a fun ride.
An iconic buddy-cop action thriller that pairs Reeves with Patrick Swayze? How could such a performance not make the list? In this 1991 film, which has become a cult classic, Reeves is an undercover cop investigating a group of bank robbers alongside his partner Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). Swayze, meanwhile, plays Bodhi, the leader of a group of surfers who wear masks of former U.S. presidents to rob banks. The role is one that made many realize how well Reeves could flip from comedic to serious roles. “He moves easily between the buttoned-down demeanor that suits a police procedural story and the loose-jointed manner of his comic roles,” wrote The New York Times’ Janet Maslin.
This comedy series has such a loyal cult following that a new film is in the works decades later, with both Reeves and Alex Winter set to reprise their roles as metalhead slackers who travel through time and meet historical figures while trying to pass their history course. There have been two films to date, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), with Bill & Ted Face the Music set for release in 2020 to introduce a whole new generation of fans to the characters. His role as a goofy teen is often imitated, along with the pair’s signature phrases, overuse of the descriptor “excellent,” and enthusiastic air guitar playing.
Playing this character in three films, John Wick (2014), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), and the just-released John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, once again solidified Reeves’ position as one of the world’s best action stars. In the first of these neo-noir action thrillers, he’s a former hit man grieving the death of his wife who becomes fixated on finding the men who broke into his home, stole his car, and killed his dog. Training in martial arts before filming paid off for Reeves, who makes for a convincing assassin who’s possessed by the need for revenge. The three films have made a healthy haul to date, and the latest film’s performance was the best yet, as it knocked Avengers: Endgame off its box office throne when it debuted to $57 million.
Still his biggest and best role (though John Wick is slowly creeping up to become his most successful franchise), Reeves will always be associated with the character of Neo, a computer programmer who discovers that humanity is stuck inside a simulated reality within a dystopian future. Reeves’ performance in the sci-fi action films, of which there have been three — The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) — truly made the Canadian actor a household name. And the films, which changed the genre and made The Wachowskis household names, are easily among the greatest sci-fi flicks of all time.
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