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Widely known throughout the film industry as one of the nicest guys anyone will ever meet, Keanu Reeves has spent nearly four decades charming audiences and dominating the box office. From reinvigorating the action genre as John Wick to reprising his most famous roles in both The Matrix and the Bill & Ted franchises, Reeves has consistently kept moviegoers entertained. A treasure to Canada and the U.S., Reeves has shown us he is capable of tackling different roles in a variety of genres. He excels in action and comedy, but he is also perfectly equipped to handle drama, crime, mystery, and basically any other genre he is challenged with.
After a relatively long hot streak in the ’90s, Reeves’ career took a bit of a dive in the 2000s due to more than one critical and commercial failure. Despite this slight dip, he came back in full force in 2014 with John Wick, and the actor has not cooled down since. We are in the midst of experiencing a renaissance of sorts for the actor, perhaps best referred to as a “Keanu-sance”, and it seems he is finally gaining the recognition he deserves. Although he is most known for his iconic franchise roles, in between his outings as his famous characters, there are quite a few hidden gems in his filmography. These films showcase Reeves’ more intriguing and unpredictable roles that we hardly get to experience in his franchises. In honor of one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors, here are ten criminally underrated Keanu Reeves movies:
10 Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Period pieces may not be the first genre of film that comes to mind when remembering Keanu Reeves’ filmography, but he has actually been in several. While his attempt at speaking in a British accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, unfortunately, less than convincing, it doesn’t mean that period pieces are not for him. He was perhaps a bit out of place in Dracula, but in Stephen Frear’s Dangerous Liaisons, he blends in perfectly.
The movie follows the schemes of Marquis de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) as they try to manipulate the seductions of young maidens Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) and Madame Marie de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). Reeves plays the role of Chevalier Raphael Danceny, the young bachelor who receives advice from Valmont on how to court Cecile. Danceny is woefully naive to the grand schemes of Valmont and Merteuil, something that Reeves portrays convincingly with his almost boyish persona.
9 Parenthood (1989)
Ron Howard’s family comedy Parenthood follows the three Buckman siblings in their attempts to raise their own children, each with their own parenting styles, as they deal with both the joys and sorrows that raising a family brings. Helen (Dianne Weist) is a divorced bank manager who has to raise her two kids, Garry (Joaquin Phoenix) and Julie (Martha Plimpton), without any help from her wealthy ex-husband. Julie is a high school student uninterested in her education, so she marries her boyfriend Tod (Reeves), becomes pregnant, and has Tod move into her family’s house.
It has already been well established that Reeves thrives in comedies, and he delivers here, but he also provides nurturing side to Tod that is much needed in Helen’s household. Tod helps Helen relate to Garry as he goes through puberty and experiences physical desire for the first time. He provides comfort for both Helen and Garry by reassuring them that Garry’s behavior is perfectly normal for a preteen boy, and even opens up about his troubles with his own father.
8 The Gift (2000)
The Gift is a rarity in the sense that it is far from a typical Sam Raimi film, and it is also one of the rare occasions in which Reeves plays a jerk. Anyone who is a fan of Raimi’s films is used to the fun, downright chaotic atmospheres he has created in The Evil Dead franchise or even in his Spider-Man trilogy. Similarly, most moviegoers are used to seeing Reeves play a hero or at least a nice guy. He is neither of those things in this supernatural thriller. He plays Donnie Barksdale, the abusive husband of Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank), a friend of the local clairvoyant Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett). When Jessica King (Katie Holmes) goes missing, the town looks to Annie for answers as she continuously has visions of Jessica’s fate.
Donnie Barksdale is a far cry from the majority of Reeves’ roles. He’s a volatile redneck who is not only abusive toward his wife but goes out of his way to frighten Annie, who suspects him to be the reason for her disappearance. It is a decent horror/thriller with an admittedly stacked cast, although it can be quite predictable at times. Still, it’s interesting to see Reeves play such a vastly different character.
7 Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Nancy Meyers is no stranger to romcoms, and she is also no stranger to including a cast of A-list talent in her films. In Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson stars as Harry, an aged music industry executive with a fondness for dating women young enough to be his granddaughter. When he suffers a heart attack while at the home of his latest young girlfriend’s mother Erica (Diane Keaton), life becomes awkward when he is stuck under her care. It becomes even more awkward when Erica begins a relationship with Harry’s doctor, Julian Mercer (Reeves).
Reeves is completely and utterly charismatic in this role as a handsome, attentive young doctor. A love triangle inevitably forms between the three, and it’s amusing to watch Reeves and Nicholson go toe to toe for Keaton. Rather than fighting each other, their battle is conducted through acts of kindness and caring that provides the perfect amount of witty comedy. Reeves brings a subtle humor to Julian that, in addition to his undeniable good looks and charm, makes him one of the better leading men in romcoms.
6 A Scanner Darkly (2006)
A very different film from the rest of his filmography, Richard Linklater’s sci-fi dark comedy A Scanner Darkly is set in a totalitarian society in the near future. Undercover detective Bob Arctor (Reeves) is working with a group of drug users to reach the distributors of a brain-damaging drug called Substance D. After his assignment is promoted by the New Path Corporation, Bob starts to display schizophrenic behaviors and loses his sense of identity, resulting in him being subjected to tests to check the stats of his mental health.
Shot digitally at first, the film was then animated using interpolated rotoscope, which is an animation style that requires the animators to trace over the original footage frame by frame. Sci-fi is another genre that Reeves thrives in. He leads his co-stars Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder in a dystopian world where every move a person makes is watched by someone else. The more serious undertones of the film aid in proving that Reeves can also thrive in dark comedies.
5 River’s Edge (1986)
Just a few years before establishing himself as a bona fide action star, Reeve’s spent the majority of the mid to late ’80s in teenage roles. He had his moment as a teen heartthrob in movies such as Bill & Ted or The Night Before, but his role as Matt in River’s Edge was stark in contrast compared to most teen movies of the time. Following the murder of their friend Jamie, a group of poor Northern California teens must come to terms with the truth that one of their own committed the heinous crime. Layne (Crispin Glover) is determined to protect Samson (Daniel Roebuck), while Matt and the rest of their friends struggle to decide if it would be best to tell the police. Reeves still plays a high school slacker with Matt, but this time his character is not destined to be well-liked. Matt has no hope for his own future, and Reeves’ captures that expertly through Matt’s conflicting feelings about protecting Samson and bringing justice to Jamie.
4 The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
The Devil’s Advocate is a bizarre, overly chaotic film that is part supernatural thriller, part courtroom drama, and part horror mystery. It jams so many genres and film styles into one 144-minute movie that it just might make your head spin. Still, it is an absolute blast from start to finish. The idea of a “guilty pleasure” is overrated, but if someone were to have one, this movie would be a perfect pick. The movie sees the legendary Al Pacino starring opposite of Reeves as the eccentric boss of a powerful New York City law firm, John Milton. Milton recruits ruthless North Florida lawyer Kevin Lomax (Reeves) to be part of his firm, and Lomax accepts, despite the obvious red flags, because the paycheck is impossible to pass up. As he becomes more involved in his cases and consumed by the lavish lifestyle, he ignores his wife Mary’s claims of seeing devilish apparitions.
It is a welcomed change of pace to see Reeves play a character motivated by purely selfish intentions as it couldn’t be further from the actor’s real-life personality. He holds his own against Pacino, who is clearly having the time of his life playing a devil with a wicked sense of humor.
3 The Neon Demon (2016)
For an actor who has become known for his action and comedy movies, Reeves has also been in a surprising number of films with horror elements. The Neon Demon follows a 16-year-old aspiring model named Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she arrives in Los Angeles with the hope of becoming a successful fashion model. Jesse experiences many disturbing interactions with other women in the industry, who are all absurdly jealous of her.
Again in a role unlike the ones he is most known for, Reeves plays Hank, the lecherous owner of the motel where Jesse lives alone. He only appears in a few scenes, but Hank is unsettling each time and leaves Jesse feeling uncomfortable with each encounter. She even has an awful nightmare about him involving a knife. It’s almost surprising to see Reeves in the handful of times he shows up on the film. The movie itself is a polarizing commentary on the fashion industry that is absolutely worth the watch.
2 Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Sir Kennegth Branagh’s romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing is based on William Shakespeare’s classic play of the same name. It centers around young lovers Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) who are engaged to be married. The couple conspires with Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) to set a “lovers trap” for arrogant bachelor Benedick (Branagh) and his favorite sparring partner Beatrice (Emma Thompson). However, the evil Don John (Reeves) threatens to break up the young couple’s marriage by accusing Hero of infidelity.
This highly underappreciated Shakespeare adaptation has a stacked cast that for the most part bounces off each other quite well. Both the comedy and the romance aspects are spot on. Some people may say that Reeves was miscast as Don Jon, but Branagh intentionally directed the film with an unsubtle approach because he indulged in the melodrama of Shakespeare’s work. Reeves understood the direction Branagh was going for and played the role to the liking of his director.
1 My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Keanu Reeves’ role in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho may be one of his best. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the film follows Mike Waters (River Phoenix) hustler suffering from narcolepsy. He befriends the somewhat older and wiser Scott Favors (Reeves) who helps him survive on the street. Scott is from an affluent family but wants to rebel against his family’s wealth, so he travels around with Mike. The two travel from Oregon, to Mike’s hometown in Idaho, to the coast of Italy in search of Mike’s biological mother.
This is one of the most gut-wrenching films that he has ever done, and it will pull on the heartstrings for its entire duration. Reeves may be known best for his franchise roles, but he is incredibly well-suited for drama. His portrayal of Scott Favors is nuanced and intimate, and the feelings that Scott feels are palpable through Reeves’ performance. His chemistry with Phoenix (who is just as phenomenal) is magnetic every time they are on-screen together. It is difficult to decipher whether Scott reciprocated any of the same feelings that Mike had toward him, which is entirely the point of Scott’s actions, and Reeves portrayed it beautifully.