Keanu Reeves has been a star for something like 30 years now. In that time, he’s appeared in many, many movies. He’s been in action movies and comedies and dramas. He’s traveled through time and through planes of reality and through Los Angeles on a speeding bus. He’s killed Russian mobsters and infiltrated surf-based criminal organizations and battled demons from hell who are occasionally played by Al Pacino. The man has had a full career so far and, with the ascendance of the John Wick franchise, it shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
What we’ve done here is take a look back at this career of his. Three of our Keanu-loving staffers — Brian Grubb, Josh Kurp, and Kimberly Ricci — dug through his filmography to identify his 15 best films and then attempted to rank those selections. It got ugly. No one killed a dog, though. Thank God. We all know how that ends.
15. The Replacements
The Replacements is one of those movies that I never considered seeing in the theater for even one second but have now somehow seen over 10 times on cable anyway. It’s an almost perfect “Saturday afternoon on TBS movie,” which was a very important genre before Netflix existed and is still surprisingly resilient in 2019. Keanu plays Shane Falco, a former star college quarterback whose professional prospects went in the tank after a disastrous performance in a bowl game but gets a second chance when a work stoppage opens up some roster spots. For those keeping score, this is the second movie in which Keanu plays a former star college quarterback, with the other being Johnny Utah in Point Break. Both played at Ohio State. This is fascinating to me on a number of levels. It’s fun to pretend all of his characters played quarterback for Ohio State. Do it while you’re reading this list.
Anyway, The Replacements is perfectly fine and very rewatchable and you could do worse on a boring Saturday afternoon. — Brian Grubb
14. A Scanner Darkly
The inventive visuals of this film introduced the public at large to the magic of rotoscoping. Yet that arguable gimmick — er, make that Richard Linklater’s experimental ways while adapting the Philip K. Dick novel — is only part of the attraction. There’s that captivating “vague blur” at the center of this existentially obsessed story, where identities morph and take Keanu into the void. As an actor, he’s game as hell to take the dive into drug addiction and lost identity, and the surreal and paranoid vibe of this film is further fed by Keanu’s voice pulsating through painted animation that feels almost like a mask over reality. The overall effect fuels a sense of paranoia that’s bolstered by an unbeatable supporting cast (Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., and Woody Harrelson), all of which leads to possibly the most faithful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel in cinematic history. It’s just plain trippy, man, and this movie’s a good one to revisit if one needs to be reminded that Keanu’s not simply a dude or a big-budget action star, although he’s definitely both those things, too. — Kimberly Ricci
Parenthood is probably better known at this point for the TV series that ran on NBC for six seasons. But don’t sleep on the movie: it’s a charming ensemble comedy starring Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Dianne Wiest, Martha Plimpton, Jason Robards, a young Joaquin Phoenix… the cast is so loaded that Keanu Reeves (who was coming off Dangerous Liaisons and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is billed fifth on the poster. Fifth! He had an uphill climb to stand out in the Ron Howard-directed movie, but he succeeded by looking like every parent’s worst nightmare — I would be uneasy if my daughter or son dated someone with that haircut — while showcasing beneath-the-surface depth. As Julie’s racecar-driving husband Tod, he tells Mrs. Buchman that you can buy a license to buy a dog or catch a fish, but “they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father,” and of course there’s his advice to Garry about masturbation: “I told him that’s what little dudes do.” We should all want a Tod in the family. — Josh Kurp
12. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Let’s get real, Francis Ford Coppola’s gothic-romance won three Oscars (for costume design, makeup, and sound effects editing), and none of them were for acting. The performances in this movie were not stellar, and I’d go as far to say that Keanu was pretty awful as Dracula’s real-estate attorney, Jonathan Harker, who at one point states, “I have offended you with my ignorance, and I am sorry.” Those words are the essence of Keanu’s performance, but I choose to point the finger at Coppola’s fixation on visuals and making Gary Oldman’s blood-sucker as theatrical as possible. Still, this film is so stylish and glossy and laughably nonsensical that it works. No one’s even quite sure how Vlad The Impaler even became a vampire in this relatively unfaithful adaptation of Stoker’s work, and Keanu’s character seems as confused as everyone, so perhaps Harker was actually more clued-in than anyone realized. Yeah, that’s gotta be it — Keanu’s a genius, and he gets it, and no one gave him credit for encapsulating this beautiful mess of a movie in 1992 in a one-man subversive performance. Now you’ll never be able to convince me otherwise. – KR
11. The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Reloaded is, without a doubt, the second best Matrix movie. That’s not the insult it sounds like. The Matrix is a masterpiece, one of the best movies released in one of the finest years for filmmaking ever, while The Matrix Revolutions is convoluted nonsense; Reloaded falls closer to the quality of the former, while still showing some of the warning lights of the latter. But you can’t fault Reeves for the sequel’s messiness — he’s still a captivating presence as Neo, who shows up again later in this ranking, obviously. There’s more to say about “The One,” and I’ll get there, but for now, please enjoy the best scene in The Matrix Reloaded and one of the most impressive set pieces in Reeves’ filmography: the so-called Burly Brawl. — JK
10. The Devil’s Advocate
All pretense of logic flies out the door in this supernatural thriller that also functions as a black comedy, all while Keanu plays a lawyer who can’t lose a case. Oh, and he also happens to be the son of Satan, played by Al Pacino, whose over-the-top performance somehow manages to top many of his other showy turns. And there’s the more grounded presence of Charlize Theron, who’s sanity is slowly slipping away and who acts as an audience barometer of how quickly things careen off a cliff. Keanu, though, not only keeps up with both of his undeniably talented co-stars but transcends them while grappling within his character’s own personal morality play. He’s pretty great here while battling not only to keep his courtroom record but his own soul intact. Keanu doesn’t pretend to be an Oscar-caliber actor here, preferring to play up his own blank-slate reputation and, deceptively, he ends up carving out a fine performance with the bluntest of instruments. Overall, the movie is ridiculous and covered in sacrificial blood while Pacino’s dancing Devil fills the whole backdrop with perverse joy. It’s so much fun, I’m going to schedule a rewatch. – KR
9. John Wick: Chapter 2
John Wick 2 is probably the worst of the John Wick movies and is still better than about 80 percent of the action movies from the last decade. It’s not even bad, far from it. It just drags a little in parts — the scene with the candlelit hot tub death, for one — and doesn’t have as many memorable moments as the films that take place before and after.