Top Performances is a recurring feature in which we definitively handpick the very best performances from an iconic actor or actress. This list has been updated for Keanu Reeves’ birthday.
The best blockbuster stars have a quality that sets them apart: the funny way that Bruce Willis gets pissed off; the moments of doubt when Denzel Washington bets on himself; and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love of language, his tremendous joy in pummeling enemies with words as well as fists. With Keanu Reeves, it’s his listening. Whether it’s a mad bomber, a flirty stranger, or a messenger from a different reality, Reeves is always utterly convincing as a man who needs to hear more.
From the beginning of his five-decade career, Reeves’ characters have been animated by an effortless curiosity, starting with the naive wonder of his breakthrough role, 1989’s Bill and Ted, and continuing through the reality-bending The Matrix. Even his off-screen choices seem bathed in curiosity, including his perhaps ill-fated appearance in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Reeves is genuinely bad in that movie, and a lot of his work from the early ’90s can veer into wooden and stiff. He did not arrive in Hollywood perfectly formed, but instead flashed moments of greatness inconsistently, eventually learning how to harness his personal magic. Now, he’s 58 years old, and it’s been a long time since he missed.
This list celebrates just one of those early clunkers, because part of what makes Reeves iconic is the early lack of quality control. We spend more time honoring his greatest successes, which include some of the very best movies in history. Read Keanu Reeves’ 10 most iconic roles below. — Wren Graves.