Ignore the hacky claims that he's wooden or always gives the same performance—Keanu Reeves is one of America's best and weirdest movie stars. He's also only appeared in one wide release in the past six years. It's too soon to declare an end to America's grand love affair with Keanu, but he hasn't had a solid hit since The Day the Earth Stood Still, and that's not particularly well-remembered.
Twenty years ago, he had a true word-of-mouth hit with Speed, which had the kind of box office run that's just unheard of these days: it opened to a $14.4 million weekend, and followed that with weekends of $12.9 million, $12.4 million and $11.2 million. It's one of several very special projects he's been involved in—but even a bad Keanu movie usually ends up being kinda interesting. Here's a ranking of every major film he's been involved in, disregarding only a couple of unseen indies and smaller supporting parts.
1. The Matrix (1999)
This will be hard to top, and it's the kind of project even movie stars only luck into once in a lifetime. An original, R-rated action sci-fi franchise that blends cyberpunk with martial arts with Baudrillard and somehow manages to be fun and exciting and engage with a wide audience? Shit like The Matrix never happens. Keanu was not the first choice (Will Smith turned it down) for this role but it lined up with his onscreen persona perfectly.
Keanu isn't why Speed works, exactly—there's the premise and the ensemble on the bus and the Joss Whedon-polished script, the Dennis Hopper scenery-chewing, and just Sandra Bullock. There's a lot of things that go into making Speed such a special movie. But Reeves is such a weird good-hearted straight-arrow hero. It's kind of a grimy movie about crazy people and L.A. detritus and Keanu holds it together so beautifully.
3. My Own Private Idaho (1991)
This is River Phoenix's movie, but Keanu is wonderful as the Prince Hal of Gus Van Sant's loose Henry IV adaptation, a role that requires to him to be handsome and remote and eventually unattainable. It's fine supporting work in a well-remembered film that deserves to be even better-remembered.
4. Point Break (1991)
Everything that works about Reeves in Speed is kinda what works here—he's a deceptively brilliant straight-arrow—and Point Break is, similarly, just an utter blast of a movie, even more high-octane and self-aware and endlessly re-watchable.
5. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
It's weird how this film established a type for Keanu that he never really leaned on again. We'd seen it before in some of his teenage roles and it could have been so easy for him to just lean on this for years and years following. Instead, apart from the sequel, he never really went there again.
6. Constantine (2005)
Easily the most underrated entry in Keanu's oeuvre, self-consciously weird and visually messy but with flashes of real brilliance from then first-time director Francis Lawrence (who's now at the helm of the Hunger Games franchise). Keanu's casting was pilloried because Constantine should be a blond British guy who looks like Sting. It's not fair. Keanu is great casting as a haunted demon hunter. Go watch this movie right now!
7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Then watch this one, a rotoscoped little gem from Richard Linklater, a faithful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel about drug addiction in the near future and the dissociative loss of identity that comes from both being an addict and being an undercover cop. Again a perfect example of casting Keanu in just the right role. Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. are all great around him.
8. Parenthood (1989)
Aw, he's such a lovable goof. 1989 was Keanu's "lovable goof" year.
9. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
This movie can in no universe be considered good. It's certainly the reason Keanu is an icon of late-'90s cyberpunk cinema, though (this film, about a courier who stores information in a hard drive in his brain, was written by William Gibson). It's a genuinely fun experience to watch just because it's so bizarre, down to its cast, filled out by Dolph Lundgren and Ice-T and Udo Kier and Takeshi Kitano and a talking dolphin. But it's also some ugly, ugly filmmaking.
10. Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)
Some people think this is a sequel that betters the original but I won't go that far. It is pretty funny though! And very self-aware! And it has the whole Seventh Seal spoof!
11. The Replacements (2000)
Is The Replacements good? Not really. If it comes on HBO sometime, should you sit down and watch the whole thing and have a great time? Yes. Do I miss Gene Hackman being in movies? I do. A lot.
12. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Of the Matrix sequels, Reloaded places a much heavier burden on Reeves as an actor and does a lot to develop Neo as both a human being and a god in the machine. It's, uh, a flawed film. And a disappointing sequel. To say the least. I actually think Reeves kinda works in the scene with the Architect, though.
13. Something's Gotta Give (2003)
I can never watch Keanu's scenes in this film and not just think "weird, Keanu's pretending to be a doctor who likes Diane Keaton." He never sinks into the role at all. But he's pretty cute.
14. Little Buddha (1993)
Remember the Bernardo Bertolucci epic about Prince Siddhartha (Reeves) that was also about a kid in Seattle who might be the next Buddha but was also kinda about a lot of other spiritual stuff? It's sort of a grand swirly mess that you admire for its ambition. Reeves was nicely-cast, even though his character is an intentional blank slate.
15. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
The best you can say is that Reeves holds his own here among a far stronger ensemble, but he also has a bit of a boring part (the villainous Don John). I don't know if you really watch this one for Keanu.
16. The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Again, do people watch this one for the Keanu? Box office-wise, it was an important hit for him in a somewhat fallow period following Johnny Mnemonic and Chain Reaction, but Al Pacino straps this movie to his back and runs away screaming bloody murder, whether you like it or not.
17. Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Weird how this movie came out before Parenthood. Firmly in the "Keanu is pretty!" casting decision box. Sean Patrick Thomas played this role better in Cruel Intentions.
18. The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Some might argue this is a better film than Reloaded, although the difference is marginal. But Reeves spends most of it blind and sitting in a chair, and his big showdown with Agent Smith is a lotta CGI nonsense. It's all symbolism by that point.
19. Feeling Minnesota (1996)
I actually saw this film recently, and while it's not good, it's so of its era. Reeves is the quietest in his trio with Vincent D'Onofrio and Cameron Diaz.
20. The Gift (2000)
Sam Raimi's southern gothic murder mystery is not bad, but Reeves is poorly cast as a red-herring redneck villain here.
21. Street Kings (2008)
This is a movie that exists. It's one of those "huh, Keanu's in this" performances. It feels like he often tries to branch out by taking roles like this one (a disillusioned LAPD cop besieged by internal affairs) but it's not always the right call.
22. The Lake House (2006)
This movie is fabulous punchline to a lot of jokes and possibly the silliest thing Keanu ever made (the same cannot be said for Sandra Bullock, but her career is particularly special). But if you're gonna reunite two stars who had good chemistry in one movie, why keep them apart the whole time? Honestly, Hollywood.
23. A Walk in the Clouds (1995)
THIS IS THE ONE KEANU REEVES FILM I HAVE NOT SEEN. I just can't imagine it's worse than what follows.
24. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Keanu is very well-cast here as Klaatu the alien but they never, ever shoulda made this thing. Some movies should stay in the past. Weird ensemble, though. Jon Hamm and Jaden Smith? Kyle Chandler? Also, this is the last film Keanu made that could reasonably be called a success.
25. Hardball (2001)
It's like The Replacements, but Keanu's the coach, and it's inner-city LA, and it's little league baseball. It's not really like The Replacements. An ill-fitting project for everyone involved. If you go to the Wikipedia page for Hardball, you're linked to "White savior narrative in film." That's about right.
26. Dracula (1992)
The absolute worst in Reeves' pretty-boy casting phase. I think people are still hating on him for this performance. Fascinating, beautiful movie though.
27. Chain Reaction (1996)
Keanu gets so much credit for declining to make the horrid Speed 2: Cruise Control and go touring with his band Dogstar instead. But, he did make Chain Reaction, which is about hydrogen-based energy sources, but is also an action movie?
28. The Watcher (2000)
Keanu was in a lot of stuff post-Matrix, just nothing big. And James Spader is the star of this one, a tortured FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer (Reeves) who strangles people. Just about the only truly villainous role Reeves ever played. He didn't do it that well.
29. 47 Ronin (2013)
We waited years for another Keanu blockbuster, and we got this. Now, we must wait again.
30. Sweet November (2001)
There are war crimes less abhorrent than this film.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.