If you only know Keanu Reeves from "The Matrix" trilogy, then you don't know Keanu Reeves. The actor, who started acting in his early 20's, has done virtually every type of movie for some of the greatest living filmmakers. And yet his commercial work (like "Point Break," "Speed," and "John Wick") seems to define him.
Still, there are a bunch of other movies that maybe you haven't seen or forgot about entirely that'll make you say "whoa" -- just like Reeves did in, yup, "The Matrix." Buckle up and prepare to expand your Keanu-knowledge.
1. 'I Love You to Death' (1990)
Lawrence Kasdan's "I Love You to Death" is delightfully wacky and Reeves is delightfully wacky in it. Released in 1990, a year after his commercial breakthroughs in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Parenthood," Reeves plays a bumbling, drug-addicted assassin hired by the scorned wife (Tracy Ullman) of a pizza parlor owner (Kevin Kline).
Part of what makes this performance so special is that Reeves' partner in the film is a virtually unrecognizable William Hurt. In one swoop, Reeves offered up a piping hot comedic performance and proved that he could hold his own with legendary cinematic greats.
2. 'The Gift' (2000)
Who would have thought that, in a movie starring Cate Blanchett, J.K. Simmons, and Hilary Swank, that the most electric sequence would come from a face-off between Giovanni Ribisi and Reeves? Well, it's the truth.
"The Gift" is, well, a gift, a nifty, supernaturally-laced Southern Gothic thriller written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson and directed by the great Sam Raimi. And Reeves brings real menace and vulnerability to the role of Donnie Barksdale, Swank's abusive husband who is pegged for the murder of a small town beauty (Katie Holmes). To give anything else away would be criminal. Just watch it.
3. 'Thumbsucker' (2005)
In Mike Mills' debut feature, there are a lot of famous actors with tiny roles (Vince Vaughn, at the height of his popularity, shows up as a debate coach), but none of them have the same impact that Reeves does. In "Thumbsucker," Reeves plays an orthodontist who is trying to help a nervous teenager (Lou Taylor Pucci) quit sucking his thumb (it involves hypnosis).
By this time in his career, Reeves, with his calming aura, had settled into the role of mentor with ease, and the performance, which features some of Reeves' most subtle acting, is a fine example of the way he elegantly transitioned from heartthrob into something more.
4. 'A Scanner Darkly' (2006)
It's disappointing that "A Scanner Darkly" marks the lone collaboration between Reeves and director Richard Linklater, because, really, it's so damn good.
Linklater took the unenviable task of adapting Philip K. Dick's kaleidoscopic novel and made things even more complicated by turning it into an even-tripper animated feature, wherein the performances were rendered on top of, giving it the look of a living painting (or something far stranger).
Like "The Matrix," Reeves makes a perfect audience surrogate for a complicated, ever-mutating world full of evil pharmaceutical corporations, mind-altered drugs, and a "scramble suit" that allows the wearer anonymity by flipping through various faces and bodies. It's a trip and one very much worth taking.
5. 'Street Kings' (2008)
Few actors do moral compromise quite like Reeves. He comes across as such a genuine and thoughtful person, that when he does questionable things, the audience not only believes it but feels it, too. Such is the case in "Street Kings," where Reeves plays an LA detective haunted by the memory of his dead wife and embroiled in a deadly conspiracy after falsifying a crime scene.
Sprawling and knotty, the movie began as an original James Ellroy story and morphed into something grittier and more contemporary, thanks to the involvement of director David Ayer. Reeves plays a character you might not root for, but you'll always empathize with.
6. 'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee' (2009)
For "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," writer-director Rebecca Miller (adapting her own novel), stocked the cast with amazing performers, including Robin Wright, Alan Arkin, Maria Bello, Blake Lively, Julianne Moore, and Reeves' frequent co-star Winona Ryder. The cast is astounding and Reeves is an essential component. As Chris, the younger lover for the titular Pippa Lee (Wright), he serves as both an escape and an impossibly grounded option for the flighty Lee.
It's telling that Reeves, in his ability to craft a fully dimensional character in the shortest screen time imaginable, can offer someone that, depending on how you look at him, can seem like a bad idea or, perhaps, the best idea.
7. 'Man of Tai Chi' (2013)
One of his few out-and-out villainous performances, Reeves stars in "Man of Tai Chi" as the oily orchestrator of an underground fighting league. It's insane. What's even more insane is that Reeves also directed the movie, setting it up as a vehicle for Tiger Chen, Reeves' friend and a choreographer and stuntman on the "Matrix" movies.
Reeves is clearly having the time of his life, especially behind the camera -- where he's able to energetically direct action sequences. He's also enjoying the sh** out of chewing the scenery as the mustache-twirling bad guy. His delivery of the line, "You owe me a life!" is the stuff of midnight movie legend.
8. 'Knock Knock' (2015)
A surprisingly subtle thriller from one-time king of gore Eli Roth, "Knock Knock" is a remake of the 1977 film "Death Game," which starred Colleen Camp (she's got a cameo in the new movie). In the film, Reeves plays a man left alone for the weekend while his family takes a trip. While home, two young nymphets (Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo) knock on the door and end up seducing him and destroying his life.
Reeves does a great job dramatizing the external and internal torture his character goes through, while not trying to absolve him of his crummy behavior.
9. 'The Neon Demon' (2016)
Come for Keanu, stay for everything else.
Reeves has a relatively small role in Nicolas Winding Refn's bug-nut brilliant "The Neon Demon," as a lecherous Pasadena motel owner who rents a room to an idealistic young wannabe model (Elle Fanning). It's implied that he's up to sinister business, running god-knows-what out of the rundown motel, and it says something that even when he's playing the scummiest character, some of his internal goodness still manages to shine through. Instead of dissolving the unease, though, it amplifies it, since that warmth can instantly curdle and turn into something far nastier. Also there's a scene with Reeves and a mountain lion that is just priceless.
10. 'Siberia' (2018)
Released earlier this year, "Siberia" is a romantic thriller that is actually romantic and thrilling. Written by the great Scott B. Smith and artfully directed by Matthew Ross, "Siberia" traces a diamond dealer (Reeves) who travels to Siberia in search of some rare blue diamonds. While there, he discovers that not everything is what it seems and he winds up in hot water with some very bad people. But the main trust of the story (as it were) is his relationship with a local woman (Ana Ularu) and how that affects his goals.
It's a nifty small-scale crime movie, full of wonderful character moments and uncomfortable situations (dramatized brilliantly by Reeves), as brutal and biting as the Siberian winter itself.