Neo is making a comeback in “The Matrix Resurrections” after “The Matrix Revolutions” wrapped its original trilogy 18 years ago. Whether or not the upcoming fourth movie is going to be a desperate cash grab or a fresh start of the once-lucrative franchise remains to be seen. So, while the world awaits the arrival of “The Matrix Resurrections” this 22 December, here are the 10 Essential Keanu Reeves Movies Worth Watching.
1) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Here’s the movie that launched the acting career for then-young Keanu Reeves, who played the lovable doofus Ted “Theodore” Logan. “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” effectively combines the sci-fi tone of “Back to the Future”-like time travel concept with teenage slacker comedy. Reeves and his co-star, Alex Winter are the MVPs of the movie as they travel back in time gathering prominent historical figures (among them includes Napoleon Bonaparte, Billy the Kid and Abraham Lincoln)… for the sake of their high-school presentation.
2) Point Break (1991)
Forget about the 2015 remake nobody asked for. The 1991 original remains the real deal even after 30 years since its initial release. “Point Break” marks then-27-year-old Keanu Reeves in his first action role as rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, where he goes undercover to infiltrate a group of bank-robbing surfers led by the charismatic Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). It’s hard to believe that Reeves, who is mostly synonymous with his geeky role in the first two “Bill & Ted” movies at the time of its release, is chosen to lead an action film. As odd as it may seem, the unlikely casting choice works. His role as a young and reckless hotshot FBI agent fits him well like a glove. Then, there’s Patrick Swayze’s memorable antagonist turn as Bodhi, coupled with some of the well-choreographed action set-pieces (the elaborate foot chase and the freefall sequence come to mind) ever made in the 90s.
3) My Own Private Idaho (1991)
A landmark movie in queer cinema, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix (that’s Joaquin’s eldest brother) play two street-hustling best friends on a journey of self-discovery. “My Own Private Idaho” combines the subtlety of road movie and relationship drama, where the latter features Reeves’ superb turn in a rare dramatic role at the time. His onscreen chemistry with River Phoenix is what makes the movie excel the most and it was a pity the latter unexpectedly died too soon at the age of 23 due to a drug overdose.
4) Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
At the time of its release, “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” didn’t do well enough at the box office, considering the popularity of the 1989 original. But looking back at the sequel today, it does retain some of the irrelevant geeky fun and charm of the original. Not to mention Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter’s onscreen chemistry remains the main reason why the sequel is watchable. Then, there’s the scene-stealing William Sadler as the Grim Reaper. The long-gestating third “Bill & Ted” movie took 29 years to materialise and the result is a reasonably fun “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (2020).
5) Speed (1994)
Three years after Keanu Reeves proved he has what it takes to handle a physically-demanding action role in “Point Break”, he excels again in “Speed”. This time, sporting a buzz cut and a whole lot of attitude, “Speed” features Reeves as LAPD SWAT officer Jack Traven, who forced to board — hop, to be exact — a moving bus during the morning rush hour. Apparently, former bomb squad officer-turned-disgruntled terrorist Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) has planted a bomb on the bus. The bomb will explode if the bus goes below 50 miles per hour. “Speed” is a high-concept action movie that embraced its implausible scenario wholeheartedly. And it works so well, thanks to its overall breakneck pace and great action scenes all around. Casting the charismatic Keanu Reeves as the action star helps too while “Speed” gets solid supports from Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock, who plays one of the passengers taking over the bus.
6) The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
If we live in an alternate reality specifically in 1997, Keanu Reeves would have reprised his iconic Jack Traven role in “Speed 2: Cruise Control”. But the truth is, he made a smart move not to star in the sequel (the (new) role went to Jason Patric instead), which ended up being a silly and preposterous movie that took place… on an ocean liner!
Instead, he chose to appear in the courtroom thriller called “The Devil’s Advocate”, where he plays an ambitious young lawyer Kevin Lomax working for a powerful law firm led by the mysterious John Milton (Al Pacino). Interestingly enough, this isn’t your average courtroom thriller as director Taylor Hackford infuses the otherwise familiar genre with a strange mishmash of different genres (demonic thriller being one of them). No doubt one of the oddest mainstream movies ever made in the late ’90s, “The Devil’s Advocate” is compulsively watchable, thanks to Reeves’ cocky-hotshot turn that reminds me of Tom Cruise-like acting vibes and Al Pacino’s unhinged performance as the devil himself, both literally and figuratively.
7) The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003)
Looking back at “The Matrix” trilogy, it’s hard to believe that Keanu Reeves wasn’t originally the first choice to play the now-iconic Neo character. Believe it or not, his role was offered to several A-list stars such as Will Smith and Brad Pitt. At one point, they even considered Sandra Bullock. Thank God the what-if scenario didn’t end up with either of them because it’s difficult to imagine “The Matrix” without Keanu Reeves.
The first “Matrix”, which came out in 1999, turned out to be a huge surprise hit. It even changed Hollywood cinema at the turn of the millennium, inspiring countless others ever since for better or worse. The movie also famously introduced the then-revolutionary bullet-time effect (see the GIF image below), some cool action sequences (the climactic third-act comes to mind) and of course, a memorable ensemble cast. Reeves is Neo, who plays a computer programmer/hacker who turns out to be a messiah of sorts — the role that made him an icon even until today. “The Matrix” features top-notch supporting roles that include Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus and of course, Hugo Weaving as the antagonist Agent Smith.
The success of the first movie led to two entertaining but uneven sequels (“The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”), both of which were released a few months apart in 2003.
8) Constantine (2005)
Never mind the fact that Keanu Reeves doesn’t look the part of the occult detective/demon hunter in the titular movie. In the comic books, he is supposed to be blonde. But comic-accurate or not, the big-screen version of “Constantine” remains an underrated gem worth watching. This is largely thanks to Reeves’ spot-on performance as the chain-smoking antihero and the movie’s distinctive noir aesthetics. Shame the movie didn’t turn out a big hit as the studio (Warner Bros.) hoped for. But “Constantine” develops enough cult following ever since its initial release and personally, I would like to see a sequel someday.
9) A Scanner Darkly (2006)
“A Scanner Darkly” stars Keanu Reeves as an undercover cop tasked to infiltrate the drug supply chain a.k.a. Substance D. But he becomes addicted himself– a result that causes him to suffer from weird hallucinations and lose his own sanity. Reeves carries the role well and so does his co-stars Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. But what makes “A Scanner Darkly” a cut above is its unique visual style. Writer-director Richard Linklater utilises the rotoscope animation that helps give the movie a distinctly surrealistic vibe.
10) John Wick trilogy (2014-2019)
Keanu Reeves was already reaching 50 years of age at the time of the first “John Wick”. Despite his age, Reeves proves to be both physically fit and agile as the titular ex-hitman. The movie itself, in the meantime, boasts a simple but effective premise. Bad guys kill John Wick’s beloved dog and he’s out for vengeance. And what a vengeance it turns out to be. Credits go to stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski for his masterful direction in the action department. It’s all gritty and visceral that rivalled the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. It even helps that Reeves did most of the stunts himself.
“John Wick” went on becoming a surprise hit and spawned a lucrative franchise. This includes “‘John Wick: Chapter 2” (2017) and “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” (2019).