Top 10 Keanu Reeves Movies Ranked

Over the course of about three decades, Reeves has evolved, from charming lunkhead to unlikely action hero, down to a few low points and then rocketed back up to universally-beloved elder-statesman. But the constant through it all is the fact Reeves possesses a unique set of skills, a quiet blend of physicality, charisma, and vulnerability that lends itself to a wide array of genres but is easy for a filmmaker to bungle. Keanu Reeves is basically the Yin to Nicolas Cage's Yang; Cage is misunderstood chaos, Reeves is misunderstood stillness.



It's been a long career for Keanu Reeves, filled with numerous peaks and valleys, but these right here are his 14 best, most vital movies. But before we jump in, I want to shout out a few films that I wouldn't classify as "Keanu Reeves Movies" but highly recommend nonetheless.



10) The Devil's Advocate

If the thing you remember most about The Devil's Advocate is Al Pacino, that's understandable. Trying to pay attention to anything else next to Al Pacino's performance in this movie is like doing a Sudoku on your iPad ten feet away from the sun. Al Pacino playing an aggressively horny Satan is the natural conclusion to the streak started in Scent of a Woman, in which one of the best actors alive realized he could quite literally do whatever the fuck he wanted, and no one on Earth could stop him. It's deliriously entertaining but, so is The Devil's Advocate, a supernatural legal thriller that takes itself ten-thousand times less seriously than you'd imagine.

Reeves is Kevin Lomax, a Florida defense attorney with an uncommonly successful win-loss ratio, who finds himself living the New York City high life after joining the law firm of one John Milton (Pacino). After Lomax's wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), starts having horrific visions, Kevin slowly realizes, whoops, he's working for the actual Christian devil.

Again, the highlight is Pacino in an acting feast comprised of nothing but ham sandwiches. My dude isn't playing to the cheap seats, he's playing to someone ten blocks away from the theater. But the unique thing about Keanu Reeves is how often genuine compliments sound like insults, and the same is true here. What Reeves brings to The Devil's Advocate is a blank-slate quality, key to a character being led, blind but willing, into the ninth circle of Hell. Seduction is at the heart of this movie, and there's a childlike naivety to the way Lomax ignores the obvious awfulness surrounding him in favor of penthouses and parties. (The term "childlike" is also very important to the truly batshit conclusion to this film.) It's endearing in its dumbness, which isn't a terrible way to describe The Devil's Advocate, overall.



9) John Wick: Chapter 2

One of the great cinematic joys of the 21st century is the emergence of the John Wick series as the modern-day action franchise. The excitement to see the absolute fuckery-on-horseback that Chad Stahelski and Co. cooks up with each entry is pretty much only rivaled by the ways Tom Cruise continues to plot his own public death for the Mission: Impossible franchise, and the John Wick movies have the benefit of a star that does not believe in the galactic dictator Xenu. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a "bigger" movie than its predecessor, but the first film has a slight edge because of its potent emotional core. The second chapter largely forgets about Helen Wick (Bridget Moynahan) and sets the title character on a relatively straightforward path; John must fulfill one final blood-oath to the backstabbing crime lord Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Without a strong personal undercurrent, the relies mostly on spectacle.

But holy actual shit, what a spectacle it is. With Stahelski taking over as sole director and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water) joining the fray, John Wick: Chapter 2 became a study in gorgeous, grueling violence. A ballet of bloodshed. The key to this movie is how tight the choreography is while giving off the appearance of chaos. John's descent into the bowels of Rome's Colosseum and subsequent escape feels like both a marathon and a sprint simultaneously, a relentless sequence that sees Reeves hitting his marks with the same efficiency of the super-assassin he's playing. This movie stacks all-timer set-pieces together and makes it look easy. A close-quarters knife fight aboard New York's PATH train. A shoot-out inside a hall of mirrors that turn eyeliners into unending tunnels. At one point, John very casually kills a man with a pencil. John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of a handful of movies where I've left the theater physically exhausted but eyeing the ticket booth for a possible round two.



8) The Gift

Sam Raimi's The Gift was a relatively recent first-time watch for me, and the first thought I had, texted to a friend, was "Keanu Reeves should have played more awful racists!" I can't recommend texting that sentence without context to anyone who has never seen The Gift, but I can highly recommend The Gift itself, a dreary supernatural thriller that goes largely unsung in the careers of its director and most of its ensemble.

Written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, The Gift is something of a return to paranormal roots for Raimi. After finishing the Evil Dead trilogy with Army of Darkness, the filmmaker flexed a few surprising muscles for a while, heading West for The Quick and the Dead, trying out noir-crime in A Simple Plan, and batting some balls around for sports drama For the Love of the Game. But The Gift is surprising in its own right; there's absolutely none of the fun Evil Dead wackiness factor here. Raimi crafts a bleak, mean Southern Gothic that's haunted as much by mental illness and past traumas as it is anything undead. At its center is Cate Blanchett as Annie Wilson, a clairvoyant who becomes vital to the murder trial of a local woman (Katie Holmes) after her visions point the blame at the abusive husband (Reeves) of a client (Hillary Swank).

The cast is across the board incredible here, especially, in a surprise to literally no one, Blanchett, as well as an absolutely gutting performance by Giovanni Ribisi as a tortured abuse victim named Buddy Cole. (Plus, J.K. Simmons as a local sheriff who is having none of these psychic shenanigans.) But, again, the surprise is Reeves, whose portrayal of a domestic abuser is chilling in its realism. The public understanding of Keanu Reeves is kind've stuck on jovial, thanks to his introduction as the chillest brah Theodore Logan and decades-long transformation into the internet's boyfriend. It's easy to forget he's really good at turning chill into ice and his quietness into intensity. The quiet is key to The Gift. Donnie Barksdale is a terrifying character because you get the sense this guy would tip his hat and say "excuse me" if you bumped into him at the store.


7) Bram Stoker's Dracula

One of the things you might have heard about Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula adaptation is that Keanu Reeves' performance is straight-up terrible and I'm here to tell you that this information is true. As fresh-faced solicitor Jonathan Harker, Reeves is locked in a one-sided fencing match with his own English accent for the entirety of the film, the lines not so much leaving his lips as they do tumble out like dishware in an earthquake. It's disorienting, but in fairness, this entire movie is disorienting. Bram Stoker's Dracula is more fever dream than film, a study in excess that sticks in your blood because of the way it looks, the way it feels, the way it tastes. Yes, this is one of those movies where you absolutely know what it'd taste like.

Gary Oldman has never done more in his life than he does here as the titular bloodsucker, changing wardrobes and form by the scene but always devouring the role like a five-course meal. His sworn enemy is the again Abraham Van Helsing, played by Anthony Hopkins who like he's afraid they might not hear his performance on Neptune. The object of Dracula's obscene obsession is Harker's fiancee, Mina Murray (Winona Ryder, holding on just a bit tighter than Reeves). There's nothing in this film that isn't etched in the dictionary next to "lavish". The makeup won an Oscar. The production design won an Oscar. The wardrobe looks like it was unearthed from some ungodly Transylvania tomb the day before filming. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus shoots the sets like they were actually built from shadow and candlelight.

And in this context, even Reeves' performance works. Jonathan Harker stepped out of reality and straight into a nightmare, a lost lamb in a labyrinth built by a mad monster. It's still a bad performance, but one that sells the descent into darkness that is this movie. I honestly can't recommend the experience enough. Just give yourself over to the Goth-opera of it all and the result is bliss.


6) Much Ado About Nothing

The thing that gets squashed out of Shakespeare for a lot of people by endless Sparknotes scrolls and enthusiastic English teachers is the fact a good amount of Shakespeare unequivocally fucks. Your degree in Horny Shakespeare 101 starts with Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, a film that opens with roughly two dozen bare butts and maintains a sense of sunlit bawdiness and an onslaught of double entendre from there. The entire movie is bursting with imp-like glee; most of the male cast is introduced riding toward the camera on horseback just mirthfully yelling, Branagh himself looking like he already knows in just under three decades he's going to film Josh Gad exploding dirt out his ass for a Disney streaming service.

The classic tale of weddings gone wrong also boasts the kind of cast you'd kill for. This is an ensemble made up of [deep breath] 20 Oscar nominations, five Oscar wins, Kate Beckinsale making her screen debut, Brian Blessed simply existing as a gift to us all, and Keanu Reeves wearing an open collar so evocative it's not safe for anyone with asthma to even look at it. Michael Keaton shows up and just does Beetlejuice again. Denzel Washington. Emma Thompson. Jesus Christ. (No, Jesus Christ is not in the cast but man, look at that list. Dude would be like sixth-billed.)

And yes, just one year removed from Bram Stoker's Dracula, it's certainly a choice to saddle Reeves with the Bard's dialogue. But casting is key, and putting Reeves in the role of the conniving Don John is the definition of playing to a performer's strengths. So much of his on-screen appeal comes from his quiet moments, the way he carries himself in any given moment, whether he's playing action icon, heartthrob, or Shakespearian dickhead. Don John's first words in the film? "I am not of many words."


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5) John Wick

Even the staunchest of Reeves devotees (devoReeves?) can admit that the 2008-2014 run was a professional decline, and there was nothing in that e-mail, synopsis, or poster to suggest anything other than the VOD-adjacent fare that had become the norm. The moral of this story is that I'm a fucking clown, but how was I—how was the world!—to know the heights of ass-kicker John Wick would soon unleash? I wasn't ready. We weren't ready.

Co-directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski—the latter of whom was Reeves' stunt double on The Matrix trilogy—John Wick is an ultra-sleek revenge tale told to the tune of 10,000 bullet casings. Reeves plays the title role, a retired assassin who lives a solemn existence driving around in his vintage Mustang with his puppy, which was a final gift from his late wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan). But when a crime lord's dickhead son (Alfie Allen) breaks into Wick's home and kills his dog, the former "Baba Yaga" comes out of retirement to carve a path of revenge across the criminal underground, body after body, headshot after headshot. Dog owners across the nation rejoiced.

But it's more than the fact that John Wick is a perfectly-crafted action film with bruising set pieces that put its peers to shame. It's also more than a professional comeback for Keanu Reeves. It's an emotional comeback, a role that could only be played by an action star—who changed the game more than once—at this point in his career and life, after so much time out of the spotlight, after his fair share of personal grief. The key to John Wick as an action icon isn't just in the number of times he reloads during a shoot-out. It's the weariness Reeves brings to the role, the feeling that this man's zen present was shattered by the past and now there's no going back. Those goons killed more than a dog, they cut John's last tether to the wife who made him more human than machine. That's why this movie wouldn't have broken through the noise with anyone other than Reeves at the lead; as Stahelski and Leitch are building action sequences that defy comprehension, you need someone with late-era Keanu Reeves' stillness at the center.



4) Speed

On Speed's 25th anniversary, I wrote a piece with the headline "Well, Speed Still Fucking Rules" because objective truths don't need to be gussied up with too many words. Now, one year, three months, and six days later, I've once again crunched the numbers, delved into the data, and adjusted for inflation, and I'm finding that, yes, folks, Speed still fucking rules. There exists no possible future scenario in which Speed doesn't rule with the power of several dozen tropical typhoons. The reason? In an act of pure post-Die Hard cinematic magic, Speed manages to be both patently absurd and extremely simple at the exact same time. Former bomb squad officer Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) straps an explosive to the bottom of a Los Angeles bus and rigs it to go off if the vehicle dips below 50 miles per hour. LAPD officer Jack Traven (Reeves) hops aboard the bus and, with the help of a quick-thinking civilian named Annie (Bullock), attempts to navigate the bus-bomb through the most gridlocked city in America.

Speed is a perfect action movie largely because director Jan de Bont, who has one of the wildest 5-movie IMDB sections you'll ever seen in your life, slices through this premise like a surgeon. There's not a moment wasted once that bus hits 50. Speed only has enough explosions, enough near misses, enough shots of Dennis Hopper baring his teeth like a vampire to keep the audience gripped behind the yellow line, no questions asked. It's exhilarating. I could come up with a clever metaphor but I'd say watching Speed is mostly like riding a bus that has a bomb strapped to the bottom of it. It takes an unhinged mind and steady hand to turn something that ridiculously dumb into a masterclass in action escalation.

The mind is De Bont, but the steady hand is almost entirely down to Reeves. Two years after Point Break but six before The Matrix, Speed solidified the actor's unique place in the new class of action stars. If John McClane was the wiry buddy from the Bronx you could count in a scrap, Jack Traven is the guy you'd want, like, finding your lost kid at a carnival. Relatable, yeah, but also ultra-reliable. Charismatic without quips, inarguably hot but without traps that could hold a Buick. As uncredited co-writer Joss Whedon put it: “What if he’s just the polite guy trying not to get anybody killed?”


3) My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Zant's My Own Private Idaho opens with street hustler Mike Waters (River Phoenix) waking up on an indeterminate point on an empty road, stretching in both directions as far as the eye can see. It's a mystifying image that tells you everything you need to know about the melancholy trip you're about to embark on, an "endless stretch of road" in movie form if there ever was one. But by the end, you return to that first image and realize how it's less about the length of the road than it is whatever point you're standing on at any given time.

A profoundly odd slice of avante-garde pie, My Own Private Idaho follows Mike as he drifts from moment to moment and john to john, first in Portland, then on a search for his parents in both Idaho and Rome. At Mike's side is his best friend and fellow hustler Scott Favor (Reeves), who prostitutes despite being in line for a massive inheritance. To call the film "plotless" wouldn't be quite correct. It just drifts, more interested in where the dust settles than how it got there. Did I mention it's also, but not quite, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V?


There's also an unavoidable air of tragedy hanging over the film simply because it depicts a young Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix hitting the road, two real-life best friends whose relationship would be cut short two years later by Phoenix's death in 1993. But it's that same relationship that lends an overwhelmingly tender quality to the film, a real emotional tether between these two wayward souls. The scene in which Mike confesses his love to Scott next to a roadside campfire is one of the most vulnerable performances ever put to film. You feel simultaneously thankful something so raw exists and devastated at what can be lost in an instant.



2) The Matrix

The Matrix changed everything and anyone who tells you differently is plugged into a different reality. I mean everything: Stunt choreography. Visual effects. Thinking trenchcoats were cool. Lana and Lily Wachowski's cyberpunk techno-shoot-em-up blasted its way through the 90s and into the year 2000, establishing a benchmark for the next two decades of action films. The movie's a big deal, is what I'm saying. You can dodge bullets, but you can't dodge facts.

It's impossible to quantify how much of that influence is down to cinema's least-cool badass, Keanu Reeves' Thomas "Neo" Anderson. Office cubicle packrat by day, computer hacker by night, Neo is woken up by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his right hand Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to the truth that our reality is but a program, designed by the A.I. that keeps the human race incubated for energy. Neo handles the truth—and this is easy to forget amid the pulse-pounding onslaught of second-and-third act ass-kickery—like an absolute goddamned goober. It's an origin story that redefined the action hero; instead of a man-mountain like Arnold Schwarzenegger or scrappy ass-kicker like Bruce Willis, Neo was like somebody uploaded the ability to whip ass into the brain of Ted Logan. (As evidenced by that pitch-perfect "whoa," which wouldn't have worked with any other actor.) It allowed a softer vulnerability to seep into the role without diluting the hardness, a vulnerability Reeves excels at portraying. Everybody remembers the Bullet Time moment, but less-discussed is the moment right before, Neo's desperate little "Trinity...help."

I guess if I had to pinpoint one major flaw with the film, it's the fact the Wachowski's never made a sequel, choosing instead to leave The Matrix as a single, uncomplicated standalone.



1) Point Break

“I run into people all the time who are like, 'Point Break!’" Keanu Reeves recalled in 2017, telling a story that is absolutely not about me. "I’m like ‘Yeah, it’s great.’ But they’re like ‘That’s not what I meant. They’re like, ‘I started jumping out of airplanes because of Point Break. I started surfing because of Point Break.' It really changed people’s lives, just like it did mine.”

Truer words. The Matrix's impact on action filmmaking gets more play because of how resounding it was, but Kathryn Bigelow's uber-subversive surf Western deserves equal attention, even if it caused a much softer reverberation throughout the genre. Appropriate, because Point Break is the softest action movie ever made. Again, a compliment. It's a pulse-pounding heist flick that also drips with warm sensuality. We meet our two leads soaking wet. College football star turned FBI agent Johnny Utah (Reeves) sits unbothered on a car hood in the pouring rain like a tragic romance protagonist. Elsewhere, zen guru bank robber Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) practically makes love to a wave, in his own world out on the water. When the two men collide it's like a massive swell meeting the shore, frighteningly powerful and beautiful in equal measure.

It's all about intimacy. Intimacy in the way Utah falls for Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty), a woman with harder more masculine edges than himself. Intimacy in the way he also obviously falls for Bodhi, seduced in ways both implied and obvious. ("The dynamics were very interesting," Swayze said, "because I wanted to play it like a love story between two men, which is exactly how it does play.”) Intimacy in the way Utag's partner Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) falls for not one, but two meatball sandwiches. Thanks to Bigelow and cinematographer Donald Peterman, that intimacy bleeds into the action, whether it's the frenetic bank heists pulled off by Bodhi's crew or the often-imitated foot chase that ends with gunshots directly into the sky. By utilizing a body-length "pogo-cam", the audience is up close and personal to every set-piece; the pumping arms and heaving chest of every chase ain't CGI.

In terms of Keanu Reeves' career, this is everything that's made him capital-letter-bold-typed KEANU REEVES rolled into one film. The pretty-boy charm and soft sexuality mingled with the everyman toughness that led him into action films and the vulnerability on display in his best dramatic roles. "Why can't I ever say what I really mean?" is the type of line you will only ever hear from one (1) action icon.


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