keanu reeves
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

The 20 Best Keanu Reeves Movies, Ranked

He knows kung fu.

If a super-computer uploaded Keanu Reeves' entire filmography into your brain, your head might explode. For more than 30 years, the eternally cool actor has perfected his craft in warped cyberpunk realms, idyllic romantic comedy dreamscapes, bullet-strewn action movie hallways, and, in one particularly memorable situation, an out-of-control bus. He's best known for three mega-franchises—Bill & Ted, The Matrix, and John Wick—but he also parodies his persona in kids' movies (Toy Story 4), pops up for surprise cameos in art movies (The Neon Demon), and narrates the occasional documentary (Side by Side). He was in a band (Dogstar) and he's spawned memes ("Sad Keanu"). The dude is busy. 

The process of assessing a career that spans over 50 movies can be challenging. From his first film role as the goalie in the 1986 teen hockey drama Youngblood, featuring his future Point Break co-star Patrick Swayze, to his more recent projects, including new Matrix and Wick sequels, he's defied simple categorization. Do you break up the famous franchises by individual film or count the trilogies as "one" ongoing project? What about the accents? How exactly does one properly honor the genius of Johnny Mnemonic?

In building the following list, we focused on the 20 best movies that retained a specific Keanu-ness, a combination of vulnerability, mystery, and intensity. (That means we skipped many forgettable movies; again, the guy works a lot.) Sometimes the whole film exudes this energy, working in tandem with its sensitive star; sometimes he applies his specific skill set to a project, injecting it with a touch of beauty or wonder or humor. Ranking these movies isn't science or math. It's a bit like riding a wave, dodging a punch, or hacking into the mainframe. As Johnny Utah would say, "Vaya con dios."

much ado about nothing
The Samuel Goldwyn Company

20. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

You have to give Reeves some credit for trying here. Let's get this straight: While Reeves is a good actor, Shakespeare is not a natural fit. But he gives it his all in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of the Bard's comedy. (At least Branagh didn't make him do a British accent.) Like Branagh's other Shakespearean films, Much Ado is a faithful adaptation with a starry cast of thespians. Unfortunately, it miscasts Reeves, who works best when we're rooting for him, as the villainous Don John. It occasionally feels like he's a little kid playing dress up, but at least he's trying his best. — Esther Zuckerman
Watch it now with Amazon Prime

knock knock
Lionsgate Premiere

19. Knock Knock (2015)

Amidst a historically pressurized presidential election, a polarized nation turned to Netflix for streaming comfort and found solace in… an Eli Roth-directed erotic thriller where Keanu Reeves plays an ex-DJ family man who gets buried up to his chin in his backyard by a pair of sex-obsessed home invaders. Though it largely flew under the radar during its initial release, grossing less than $10 million, this nasty morality tale eventually found a streaming audience in 2020, possibly drawn in by an early turn from Knives Out breakout Ana de Armas, a sleazy premise, and the promise of the typically unflappable Reeves cracking under pressure. As a social media-ready Fatal Attraction update, Knock Knock is ridiculous, too pleased with its own meager provocations and too determined to play an endless game of chicken with the audience's assumptions. But Reeves, pleading for mercy with a gag in his mouth and a smartphone in front of his face, makes it worth opening the door. — Dan Jackson
Watch it now on Netflix

johnny mnemonic
TriStar Pictures

18. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Granddaddy of cyberpunk William Gibson's vision of the future came to weird, grimy life in Robert Longo's directorial debut, which stars Reeves as Johnny, a "data courier" implanted with a cybernetic brain chip that stores 80 whole gigs of information shuttled around the world for the highest bidder. But when Johnny's newest data dump is to much for one brain to handle—not to mention full of possibly illegal knowledge—he's forced to go on the run, traversing a society at the mercy of the Internet and enormous mega-corporations and hiding amidst the dark, seedy, hacker-riddled underbelly of Newark, New Jersey in 2021. Somewhat derided in its time, the movie has become a cult classic among those of us who get an adrenaline rush from phrases like "black shakes" and "Lo-Teks," and Reeves screaming about how much he wants room service. What more could you ask from a movie that co-stars Ice-T, Takeshi Kitano, Black Flag's Henry Rollins, Dolph Lundgren as an assassin named the "Street Preacher," and a cyborg dolphin? — Emma Stefansky
Watch it now on Hulu

parenthood movie
Universal Pictures

17. Parenthood (1989) 

Introduced hiding under the bed of his overachiever girlfriend (Martha Plimpton) in his underwear, Tod Higgins is the prototypical Lunkhead Boyfriend. He's got a dangly earring, a choppy haircut, and a fondness for referring to masturbation as "slappin' the salami." Released in the same year as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which established Reeves as a self-aware goofball comedian, Ron Howard's study of '80s strivers showed that Reeve's charming schtick could work in a more strait-laced movie. With its sprawling cast, anchored by Steve Martin as an anxious father, and careening tone, which pings between professional-class melodrama and surreal comedy, Parenthood is odd, playing more like an elevated sit-com pilot than a satisfying movie. (Unsurprisingly, it inspired two different TV shows.) But Reeves stands out in the crowded cast, proving himself as both a nimble scene stealer and an intuitive scene partner, knowing when to cede the spotlight to actors like Dianne Wiest and, in one of his earliest roles, a young Joaquin Phoenix. — DJ
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

the gift
Paramount Classics

16. The Gift (2000)

Radiating kindness and sensitivity, Reeves doesn't play a bad guy too often. In Sam Raimi's swampy supernatural thriller The Gift, he's cast against type as a racist, violent hillbilly, a truck-driving, wife-abusing foil to Cate Blanchett's local psychic, who encourages his wife (Hillary Swank) to dump his abusive ass. Reeves is effective in the role, using his muscular frame and deep voice to bring startling menace to a one-note villain. (The script, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton and inspired by his mother's fortune-telling past, veers wildly from restrained ghost story to staid courtroom drama to horror-tinged freakout.) Released before Raimi's Spider-Man upended the film industry, The Gift now feels like a muffled radio signal from a lost world of genre-mixing mid-budget studio movies, one where a star like Reeves was perhaps less beholden to the financial demands of mega-franchises. — DJ
Watch it now on Amazon Prime

Warner Bros. Pictures

15. Constantine (2005)

Just before the superhero boom really kicked into high gear, Reeves starred in this dark DC adaptation about a demon hunter who was brought back from hell after a childhood suicide attempt and is now trying to win a place in heaven. Francis Lawrence's directorial debut can be slow in places and unnecessarily confusing in others, but one thing is certain: Reeves slips seamlessly into the noir aesthetic Lawrence attempts to conjure. He's a devastatingly convincing tortured soul, constantly sucking down a cigarette as he wrestles with hell beasts and spars with Tilda Swinton's interpretation of the angel Gabriel. (Really, Reeves and Swinton should be in more movies together; their energies are perfectly matched.) In many ways, Reeves' Constantine performance feels like it's foreshadowing his John Wick arc. Playing haunted suits him well. — EZ
Watch it now on HBO Max

always be my maybe

14. Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Keanu's got jokes! About Keanu! The Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, written by and starring Ali Wong and Randall Park, might have never had the cultural cache it ended up having if not for the surprise appearance of Keanu, playing a heightened version of himself. He waltzes into a swanky restaurant in slo-mo and downright steals the movie. It's such a hit because, frankly, he didn't even need to be playing "Keanu Reeves" for the performance to work. In real life, Keanu Reeves seems like a fairly low-key, down-to-Earth guy. Here, he's a pretentious asshat who wears fake glasses, picks fights, and asks a waiter if he has any dishes that "play with time, the concept of time." Despite his (great) performances in comedies, Reeves earned a reputation for being overly serious and perhaps a little sad over the years, but Always Be My Maybe re-establishes that he can goof around with the best of them. — EZ
Watch it now on Netflix

the devil's advocate
Warner Bros. Pictures

13. The Devil's Advocate (1997)

It's hard enough to hold your own with Al Pacino, one of Hollywood's greatest actors and most gifted shouters, when he's not cast as Satan himself. In Taylor Hackrord's demonic legal thriller, Reeves is tasked with playing an ethically compromised Southern attorney in the John Grisham mold who arrives in New York to do the evil bidding of a powerful law firm led by the conspicuously named John Milton (Pacino). Though his Foghorn Leghorn accent can be distracting, Reeves, along with Charlize Theron as his wife, keeps the frustratingly dense plot machinery grinding, allowing his more famous co-star to nibble (and, in the final stretch, feast) on the scenery. It's a sturdy, Cruise-ian star turn. Still, this is the Pacino Show, an exercise in seeing how much fun you can have calling God a "tight-ass." In scripture and in film, the devil gets the best zingers. — DJ
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

man of tai chi

12. Man of Tai Chi (2013)

When famous actors direct movies, they often place themselves squarely in the center of a story that accentuates the grizzled persona they've carefully crafted for themselves over the years. (Think Kevin Costner with Dances with Wolves or Bradley Cooper with A Star is Born.) It's revealing that Reeves, who has spoken at length in interviews about his admiration for fight choreographers and stunt professionals, decided to be the scheming villain in Man of Tai Chi, a martial arts adventure starring Tiger Chen, an actor and martial artist who worked on The Matrix with Reeves. There's a surprising lack of ego to the movie, which rarely attempts to reinvent or subvert the well-worn tropes of the genre. Showing reverence for the past and respect for his collaborators, Reeves seeks only to excite and entertain, an instinct that's served him well as an action star. — DJ
Watch it now on Pluto TV

permanet record
Paramount Pictures

11. Permanent Record (1988)

In his youth, Reeves often played characters with cluttered bedrooms, band posters covering the walls and "danger" signs nailed to the doors. He was an occasionally uneasy avatar of pre-grunge teen alienation, comfortable in his own skin but still bubbling with emotions he can't quite understand or put a name to. Marisa Silver's achingly sad Permanent Record finds Reeves' Chris Townsend, an easy-going slacker musician who opens the movie by sneaking into a Lou Reed recording session, reeling after the suicide of his best friend. It's a demanding role in an emotionally nuanced movie, one that mostly avoids the creaky plot contrivances and dull moral lessons of many less inspired stories about teens coping with loss. Instead, Reeves finds depth in an archetype of beer-guzzling, guitar-soloing rebellion. — DJ
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

something's gotta give
Sony Pictres

10. Something's Gotta Give (2003)

Keanu Reeves' beauty is so ethereal, his demeanor so striking and intense, that he doesn't often play a normal heartthrob. Something's Gotta Give is the exception to that rule. Nancy Meyers cast him as Julian Mercer, the handsome doctor who is absolutely captivated with Diane Keaton's writer Erica Barry in her older people rom-com. Of course, we know from the beginning it's not meant to be. Erica is going to end up with Jack Nicholson's Harry, the lascivious guy who was previously dating her daughter. Still, it's a little disappointing that Julian ends up heartbroken in the end. This may just be Reeves' dreamiest role: Did we mention he plays a doctor who appreciates older women and reads? He's also just very relaxed here, his chill vibes bouncing nicely off Keaton's high energy. — EZ
Watch it now on IMDb TV

bram stroker's dracula
Columbia Pictures

9. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula adaptation is notable for many things: Eiko Ishioka's sumptuous and unforgettable costume design, the use of century-old film techniques to create its visual atmosphere, Keanu Reeves' inexplicable pronunciation of "Budapest." Reeves' performance in the movie is the one thing it was rightly criticized for, and yet, as wimpy, lovesick real estate agent Jonathan Harker, he's actually perfect, spending most of the movie menaced by a trio of vampire brides and writing letters to his betrothed while she's charmed by the undead prince himself. The whole movie is a feast for the eyes, and Reeves' hapless portrayal of one of literature's most ineffectual monster hunters brings an appropriate level of melodrama to an already dramatic tale. — ES
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

bill and ted's excellent adventure
Orion Pictures

8. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)/Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)/Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Ted "Theodore" Logan in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure has been something of a curse for Reeves. It was his breakout role, but it fueled the myth that he, like his character, was a doofy airhead. Of course, he's not, but that doesn't make Ted any less of a perfectly adorable creation. Together with Alex Winter's equally crucial Bill, Ted zips through history and the afterlife with a hangdog appeal and a good spirit that makes this unlikely trilogy such a delight. Each movie—all of them written by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson—complicates things for these two dudes from San Dimas who just want to rock and similarly adds another layer of acting challenge for Reeves and Winter. In Bogus Journey, they do double duty playing both Bill and Ted and evil robot versions of Bill and Ted. In the recently released Face the Music, they meet various future incarnations of themselves. It's all great fun, but it's the pervasive kindness of these movies that have made them unlikely classics. — EZ
Rent Excellent Adventure,Bogus Journey, and Face the Music now on Amazon Prime

river's edge
Island Pictures

7. River's Edge (1986)

For viewers accustomed to the refracted Spielberg-ian nostalgia of Stranger Things, a genuine artifact of the '80s like River's Edge can be shocking. Reeves plays Matt, a driftless teenager who steals joints from his mom, beats up his younger brother, and hangs out with an ex-biker drug dealer (Dennis Hopper) with a blow-up doll for a girlfriend. This is far from John Hughes' territory. The movie, which tracks the discovery of a body after a brutal murder, scans as a ripped-jeans and heavy-metal version of Stand By Me, roaring with dark humor and middle-finger energy. Offsetting the movie's tone of cigarette-burn nihilism, Reeves' Matt develops a conscience, slowly realizing that he's living in a haze of ambivalence. It's a tricky, soulful performance in a movie that teeters right on the brink of total despair. — DJ
Watch it now on HBO Max

a scanner darkly
Warner Independent Pictures

6. A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Philip K. Dick's symphony of 1970s paranoia was adapted by Richard Linklater in the mid-2000s, and though the novel and the movie are nearly 30 years apart, its uneasiness towards psychoactive drug epidemics and surveillance states directly translates to the modern age. Reeves stars as Bob Arctor, an undercover government agent whose job is to infiltrate a ring of dealers addicted to the abundant drug Substance D, which has turned 20% of the population into twitchy junkies whose brains no longer function the way they should. The problem is, Arctor has become addicted to D, too, and is having trouble essentially surveilling himself while remaining anonymous amongst his fellow agents. It's part stoner comedy with assists from Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr., and Winona Ryder, part dystopian sci-fi, and the movie's interpolated rotoscope animation keeps you on edge throughout the whole strange experience. — ES
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

john wick chapter 3

5. John Wick (2014)/John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)/John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Reeves was in need of a hit when the first John Wick came along. Not only can it be almost completely credited for the wave of Keanu love that's hit the internet in recent years, it's also maybe the ultimate Reeves role, perfectly calibrated for his talents and the grizzled demeanor he's aged into. John Wick, if for some reason you don't know, is a retired assassin whose dead wife gives him a puppy. A spoiled rich kid (Alfie Allen) who wants John's car breaks into his house, killing the sweet dog. John comes back and goes on a revenge spree. But a plot summary doesn't nearly get at what makes the Wick films—shepherded by director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad—so successful. They are a masterful mix of insanely impressive martial arts choreography with virtuosic physical work from Reeves, and wild lore of this invented universe where contract killers have their own monetary system and fancy hotels where they can stay without getting murdered. John feels like another layer of Keanu's skin, embodying what we appreciate the actor for: His technical prowess, but, at the same time, his sense of honor. — EZ
Rent or buy
 John WickChapter 2, or Parabellum now on Amazon Prime

my own private idaho
Fine Line Features

4. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

"Hurt my image? Who am I—a politician?" joked Reeves after an interviewer asked him if there was any concern from his "camp" about playing a sex worker in Gus Van Sant's tragic road movie. That lack of cynical calculation, coupled with a willingness to collaborate with risk-taking filmmakers and dabble in a number of genres, has allowed Reeves to pursue projects that challenge him and dovetail with his obsessions. Mixing Shakespeare with Warhol, the ever-shifting style of My Own Private Idaho attempts to mimic the dreamy mental state of River Phoenix's Mike, a young man with narcolepsy. As Scott, the privileged son of the local mayor, Reeves has the more emotionally restrained, less outwardly expressive part. In some sense, Scott is a mystery, a cipher of money and desire. But he's also an invaluable screen partner to Phoenix, deepening the film's sense of romance with every look, gesture, and embrace. — DJ
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

point break movie
20th Century Fox

3. Point Break (1991)

Point Break is more than just a cop movie featuring a bunch of surfers, or Fast and Furious on the beach. The friendship between surfer and occasional bank robber Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah (Reeves) reaches levels of Shakespearean tragedy when the other shoe—that Johnny is investigating Bodhi and his group of wave riders on suspicion that they're actually a group of thieves called the "Ex-Presidents"—finally drops. Reeves, already known for his stoic, calming screen presence, is the perfect type to play both an FBI agent who used to be a football player, and a guy masquerading as a chill dude who just loves to hang ten. — ES
Watch it now on HBO Max

speed movie
20th Century Fox

2. Speed (1994)

With his hair cropped close and his eyes on the road, Reeves brings the ideal degree of sincerity to this proudly dumb, riotously fun blockbuster about an ill-fated bus rigged to blow up if it goes below 50 miles per hour. As the tension rises with each stunt-heavy set-piece, impeccably staged by Die Hard cinematographer (and future Twister director) Jan de Bont, Reeves keeps his cool. Modifying the more ironic, traditionally macho wise-cracking approach of stars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the hotshot bomb specialist played by Reeves has a stillness—you might call it... a chillness—that meshes perfectly with the movie's unrelenting commitment to white-knuckle suspense. The put-upon passengers on the bus, including Sandra Bullock's ultra-stressed Annie, learn to trust him. There's no bridge you wouldn't jump for the guy. — DJ
Rent it now on Amazon Prime

the matrix
Warner Bros. Pictures

1. The Matrix (1999)/The Matrix Reloaded (2003)/The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Keanu Reeves has long been described as "monkish," the type of guy your brain immediately conjures up when you think of a modern philosopher-king waxing poetic about the nature of the universe. He's the ideal protagonist, then, for a series of wuxia action movies masquerading as tech thrillers, cyberpunk sci-fi adventure flicks with roots buried deep in ancient beliefs in mysticism and spirituality. (There's a bunch of stunning action sequences, too, obviously.) The Wachowski sisters' Matrix trilogy, which stars Reeves as The One, a messianic hero named Neo who chooses knowledge over ignorance, freeing himself—and, eventually, the rest of humanity—from a lifetime of enslavement at the mercy of machines and their dull, featureless virtual prison, is an allegory for a newly technological society on the brink of self-actualization, a message with diminishing returns as the sequels wear on. With his expressive eyes, slicked-back hair, and bullet-dodging limbs, Reeves was more than just the physical vessel for all these different ideas—he was the embodiment of them. — ES
The MatrixReloaded, and Revolutions now on HBO Max

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