With a reputation for being the hardest working guy on set (as well as the nicest), Keanu Reeves has mastered pretty much everything – from comic book thrillers and classical horror to swoony period romance and cartoon comedy, not to mention sword fighting from the back of a speeding motorbike. Striking a zen balance between the many different sides of his 35-year-old career, he remains one of the most unique, watchable and statically-charged screen presences around.
As Bill & Ted Face The Music gets ready to rock on September 16, it’s a good time to look back over these unmissable Keanu Reeves movies before you watch his latest excellent adventure.
If ever a comic book movie deserved a sequel and didn’t get one, it’s Constantine. A gnarly mix of film noir, horror and mid-00s CGI excess, there’s even an early hint of John Wick in Reeve’s John Constantine – a sharp-suited, moody anti-hero who’s carving his own path to Hell. The difference, of course, that Constantine actually gets there – fighting demons and fallen archangels in flaming gothic set-pieces that are only really there to set Keanu up for another immortal one-liner.
Most iconic moment: Constantine’s slow walk through Hell
9‘River’s Edge’ (1986)
Throughout the first decade of his career Reeves found himself bound to the moral vortex at the heart of America’s MTV generation – but before he started sending it up in Parenthood and Bill & Ted, he took it deadly seriously in his first major film. The story of a group of teens who deal with the aftermath of a murder, River’s Edge is a chilling social horror with punk energy – still a frighteningly believable slice of mid ’80s malaise.
Most iconic moment: Crispin Glover’s awful overacting in the arcade – just one of the reasons he didn’t become a star and Keanu did.
8‘Point Break’ (1991)
Keanu as an action star?! Trying to turn the guy from Bill & Ted into the next Tom Cruise must have seemed pretty ridiculous back in 1991 – and action movies don’t get much more ridiculous than Point Break. Hilariously earnest, the mix of cod philosophy and cock rock action in Kathryn Bigelow’s surf thriller would come calling again for Reeves later in his career, but he never played a character with a better name than “Johnny Utah” (at least until he played Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4…)
Most iconic moment: Cinema’s greatest foot chase. Without this we wouldn’t have Hot Fuzz.
7‘A Scanner Darkly’ (2006)
Becoming the face of cyber-punk sci-fi in the early ’00s after three Matrix movies (and one Johnny Mnemonic), it was a smart move to graduate to the grown-up side of the genre for Richard Linklater’s high-tech, head-fuck of an indie film. Shot digitally and then animated over each frame to give the whole thing a hand-drawn shimmer, Reeves plays an undercover agent investigating a state-sponsored hallucinogen – with Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder all swirling around in his consciousness.
Most iconic moment: The first shot, revealing just how trippy the whole rotoscope actually looks in motion.
6‘My Own Private Idaho’ (1991)
Anyone who thinks of Reeves’ early career being all time-travelling phone boxes and exploding buses needs to revisit My Own Private Idaho – a no-budget indie about male prostitution, partially based on a Shakespeare play, directed by then up-and-coming underground auteur Gus Van Sant. Reeves signed on the same year he made Bogus Journey (and convinced River Phoenix to do the same), effectively using his star power to green-light a landmark of queer cinema that rightly went on to become a cult classic.
Most iconic moment: The campfire scene – a supreme bit of screenwriting that’s beautifully played by Reeves and Phoenix.
5‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992)
It’s hard to think of anyone less suited to play the stoic English narrator of Bram Stoker’s literary masterpiece than Reeves, and his wooden, slightly painful looking performance has since gone down as one of the worst in history. But… Jonathan Harker is always meant to be the empty cipher through which everything else is seen – and Francis Ford Coppola’s gloriously operatic Dracula actually looks all the bigger/better/camper with Reeves squinting in the background. Still one of the boldest visions of the book, you can’t enjoy a banquet this overladen without a big slice of ham.
Most iconic moment: Gary Oldman’s powdered count opening the door to Castle Dracula for the first time.
4‘The Matrix’ (1999)
If you didn’t see The Matrix at the cinema when it came out in 1999 it’s hard to describe just how different it looked, sounded and felt from everything else. It’s also hard to explain how annoying the film’s diehard fans were when they tried to explain how smart they thought it was. After 20 years and two awful sequels, it’s now pretty obvious that the same philosophy lessons could be delivered on CBBC, but it’s also clear that the film still stands as a landscape-shifting milestone of action cinema, special effects and the art of pulling off a leather trench coat.
Most iconic moment: The lobby shootout. Gratuitous violence has never looked cooler.
Pop quiz hotshots: there’s a bomb on a bus that will go off if it drops below 50mph… What do you do? It’s an ingenious bit of scriptwriting to craft a film that literally can’t slow down – giving Speed a good shot at being one of the most perfect action movies ever made. More than just a gimmick, it’s Reeves and Sandra Bullock that help to keep the pedal to the floor, building a winning on-screen chemistry that even The Lakehouse (2006) couldn’t destroy.
Most iconic moment: The jump – all done for real with a stunt bus on an actual LA freeway.
2‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989) and ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’ (1991)
The funniest joke of the Bill & Ted movies is that they’ve now become part of history themselves. Forever stuck in a moment in the late ’80s and early ’90s that only ever existed for a brief flash of time, William ‘Bill’ S Preston, Esq and Theodore ‘Ted’ Logan became cinema’s greatest, funniest, most excellent time travellers across two (soon to be three) chapters of history-hopping – taking in Napoleon, Billy The Kid, Socrates, Genghis Khan, Joan Of Arc, evil timelines, Death and God without ever dropping their air guitars.
Most iconic moment: The first time Bill and Ted say “excellent!”. And the next. And the next…
1‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ (2017)
Tip Keanu’s whole career in a cocktail shaker and you’ll pour out a tall glass of John Wick – mixing the visual flair of The Matrix, the intensity of Speed and even the sly irony of Bill & Ted. A glorious throwback to stripped-back, old-school action, the first film came out in 2014 as an antidote to Marvel’s eye-watering summer blockbusters, reminding us all what a proper set-piece looks like. Parabellum (2019) was magnificent (and a planned fourth and fifth movie will undoubtedly rewrite this whole list), but it was the first sequel that really found the sweet spot between grounded noir and Looney Tune mayhem.
Most iconic moment: A silent subway shootout that somehow takes place in a crowd without anyone noticing.