I don’t think any other star in Hollywood (Besides maybe Tom Hanks) has as much goodwill as Keanu Reeves. What I mean is, yeah, sure, people love most of Keanu Reeves movies, but I think a lot of people just like Keanu Reeves in general, which is why, even though he hasn’t been great in every role he’s been in (I’m looking at you, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), you still just love Reeves anyway since he’s, well, Keanu Reeves.
That said, Keanu Reeves HAS been great in several movies, and for multiple decades, no less. That is no small feat! We’ve already covered the 10 best Keanu Reeves characters based on how badass they are, as well as the most badass moments of Keanu Reeves’ career, so now, I’m going to be covering his best movie performances from every decade since the ‘80s. Can I get a “Whoa,” my brothers and sisters?
‘80s: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Some of the best movies come from the ‘80s (and, admittedly, there are some pretty popular ‘80s movies that are actually terrible). But, one of the very best ‘80s movies is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, where Keanu Reeves played a most righteous teenager named Ted who traveled back in time with his best buddy, Bill (Alex Winter), in order to pass a history exam. When most people of a certain age think of Reeves, they undoubtedly think of San Dimas’ own Wyld Stallyn since he just owns this role as a cool teen with a dream.
Runner-Up For The ‘80s: River’s Edge
In a much, much darker turn for Reeves is 1986’s River’s Edge, where he played a troubled teen who saw his friend’s dead body and was conflicted about what to do about it. The film also starred Crispin Glover, and Dennis Hopper (with a blow-up doll), and it went into some really creepy territory where Reeves truly got to show off just how talented he was very early in his career. I would have put this as his best performance of the ‘80s, since it’s so powerful, but his role as Ted is the one that pushed his career forward into the ‘90s, so it wins out here.
‘90s: The Matrix
The first half of the ‘90s started off really strong for Reeves (Point Break, My Own Private Idaho, Speed - which I’ll get to soon), but the second half saw a string of movies that almost flatlined his career. So, 1999’s The Matrix pretty much pushed Reeves back into the limelight in a big way. In this seminal film that would go on to influence movies for the next few years or so, Reeves played a computer programmer/hacker nicknamed Neo who learned that the world as we knew it was really just a simulation, and he fought to uncover the truth.
Obviously, The Matrix was a huge hit, and there were multiple sequels in the 2000s (the most recent, The Matrix: Resurrections being “an uneven sequel” according to our very own Eric Eisenberg), but, arguable, none of them were as good as the original, where Reeves’ sense of wonder at the new world he was uncovering was contagious in this astounding franchise starter.
Runner-Up For The ‘90s: Speed
Speed is one badass movie. Reeves played a police officer who had to basically give constant encouragement to a passenger on a bus (Sandra Bullock) so that she didn’t drive below 50 miles an hour so that the bus wouldn't explode. Dennis Hopper played the antagonist (he always played the best antagonists, see: Waterworld, which is awesome) and Reeves’ coolness in the face of danger in this movie made him out to be one of the most badass action heroes of the ‘90s. This movie still slaps.
2000s: A Scanner Darkly
After The Matrix, Reeves was getting roles left and right up to 2010, and he covered a wide variety of genres, like sports drama (Hardball), sports comedy (The Replacements) superhero (Constantine), fantasy romance (The Lake House), and romantic comedy (Something’s Gotta Give). And of course, he also had the first two The Matrix sequels.
But, his best movie, an even head-trippier film than The Matrix, was Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, which was based off of a Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. In it, Reeves played an undercover agent who got addicted to this illegal drug called Substance D, and he spent the whole movie getting deeper and deeper into his paranoia up to the point where he wasn’t even really sure what reality was any longer. And, Reeves really dug into the madness. It’s a fantastic performance considering Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson are also in it, but Reeves kind of had to play the straight man, even though he was also unraveling. A great, great performance.
Runner-Up For The 2000s: The Gift
Definitely one of the best Sam Raimi movies ever, this supernatural horror thriller about a clairvoyant (Cate Blanchett) who may be the key to uncovering a murder actually features Reeves as a villain for a change. Or, at the very least, as a possible suspect. Even though Reeves had a very diverse 2000s, this is his next best role after A Scanner Darkly, because it goes so against his type. I mean, he is genuinely scary in this movie, and I really didn’t know he had it in him until I saw this early 2000s gem.
2010s: John Wick: Chapter Two
It’s interesting, since like the second half of the ‘90s, Reeves was in a bit of a slump again in the early 2010s. In fact, it looked like 2013’s much-maligned 47 Ronin was going to be the death knell to his career. But then, 2014 introduced us to John Wick, and all was good with the world again.
I’m going to say that the second John Wick movie, Chapter Two, is Reeves' best performance in the 2010s, since the second movie was the one that truly put Wick in his tightest spot, as everybody around the world wanted him dead after the events of the first movie. But, like Speed, Keanu Reeves just played it so cool, and all the intense panic in that movie is made tolerable by Reeves’ excellent performance as the world’s deadliest killer. I just can’t get enough of this man!
Runner-Up For The 2010s: Toy Story 4
And lastly, Reeves’ next best performance in the 2010s is actually voice work. But, it’s not just any old voice work. It’s for none other than Canadian stuntman (or rather, stunt toy) Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4. Keanu Reeves voices a character who is both overly confident in himself, but also incredibly insecure. But, all throughout, he voices Duke with such energy and verve that even though he was only featured in one Toy Story movie, he still feels like a vital character in the cast, and that’s saying something.
So, what are your favorite Keanu Reeves movies? For more news on Reeves and other great actors over the years, make sure to swing by here often.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.